Today is world ocean day, a fitting occasion for a short discussion over the fuss against Seaspiracy – a recently premiered documentary film which puts most of the blame for the destruction of Earth’s oceans on the commercial fishing industry.
The film made many people, not just from the fishing industry but from ocean conservation groups as well as the general public, very angry, supposedly because it displays, according to its opposers, many perceived “inaccuracies”. Most of this kind of criticism is directed at the ‘empty oceans by 2048’ statement which they claim is wrong (we have referred to the ‘empty oceans by 2048’ statement here), the claim that most of the plastic pollution in the ocean comes from fishing gear such as abandoned fishing nets (known as “ghost nets”) and not from household plastic (for more about plastic pollution in the ocean please read our post ‘deep impact’), and that allegedly sustainable fishing practices such as dolphin safe nets practically means nothing (we have referred to this issue in the article The Anthropocentric View Of The Environmentalists).
Many have written about the film’s supposed inaccuracies, many others have defended the factual claims presented in the film, and many argue that its inaccuracies are marginal compared with its great contribution. Therefore, and since as mentioned we have referred to some of the main issues in the center of the controversy, we will not deal with the film’s inaccuracies in this text, but with the implications of such a film and of such a response to such a film, including the focus on inaccuracies in the responses to the film, which we’ll begin with.
Even if we’ll accept that there are some inaccuracies in the film, that wouldn’t be the first time that a documentary wasn’t accurate about some of the data presented in it. And it is far from being the most controversial documentary film ever made. What distinguishes Seaspiracy from many other documentary films is that it has the guts to lead to a much more personally demanding solution – stop consuming fishes.
This is not another mediocre, placative, undemanding, and obsequious documentary film that ends up suggesting that if only we will all do something extremely marginal and insignificant such as stop using plastic straws, switch lightbulbs, or turn off the lights for an hour, the world would be a better place. Much of the criticism, we assume, stems from the film being more personally demanding than usual, suggesting that if humans don’t want to participate in dolphins and turtles killing, human slavery, climate change, and in the ecological destruction of the oceans, they must stop eating fishes.
It is much more convenient to oppose a specific malpractice such as the dolphins slaughter in Taiji or the whales slaughter in the Faroe Islands, than the whole global fishing industry.
Of course it would have been much more comfortable if most of the plastic in the oceans really came from something like straws and not from commercial fishing because people don’t mind so much giving up drinking with plastic straws, but they sure like eating fishes and are not ready to give them up.
So clearly the case is not that the film is full of errors, but that it upsets the fishing industry and is inconvenient for humans who eat fishes.
One of the ways to reject the film’s conclusion is by doubting the truthfulness of its claims. And one of the ways to do that is to turn the discussion about the film into a discussion about the accuracy of specific statistics, or claiming that the film is provocative in its style, or that it is a “vegan propaganda”, a claim we’ll address later in this text.
It is much easier for humans to deny or convince themselves that things are much less worse than presented in the film claiming it is full of inaccuracies. It is much more convenient to argue with the film’s practical conclusion, which sadly and ridiculously most humans find demanding, by claiming that the ‘empty oceans by 2048’ prediction is actually wrong, or that the “by-catch” “figures” are actually a little bit smaller than suggested in the film. That is a tactic many are using to disqualify a genuinely relevant, efficient and serious solution, at least on the personal level, to many of the problems in the oceans.
The style of Seaspiracy might not be some people’s cup of tea, some data might not be accurate or may be controversial, but this film is not full of errors. Certainly not in its core claim which is that the main contributor to ocean destruction is the fishing industry.
The film makes many people uncomfortable because they don’t want to think that animals that they like such as dolphins, whales and sea turtles are being killed as a consequence of them consuming fishes, for whom they don’t care much.
They don’t want to think that they are contributing to ocean destruction as a consequence of them consuming fishes, for whom they don’t care much.
They don’t want to think that they are contributing to climate change as a consequence of them consuming fishes, for whom they don’t care much.
They don’t want to think that they are part of the ocean problem as a consequence of them consuming fishes, for whom they don’t care much.
And probably exactly because humans don’t care much about fishes, the film focuses on everything else but the main victims of the fishing industry which are obviously fishes.
Despite being labeled by many as “vegan propaganda”, this film is not a threat to speciesism.
Observing it from an animalistic perspective, this film is in the sequence of the recent years’ anthropocentric approach to veganism, meaning if you care about your health, your planet, your oceans, about marine mammals, human slavery, and etc., go vegan. Like in former productions of Kip Andersen, What the Health and Cowspiracy, it is suggested that veganism should be embraced for human interests or issues humans have some interest in, not in order to stop the main atrocity – animals suffering.
Like many films and books of its kind, the main victims are hardly mentioned and most of the focus is on other issues.
The use of egocentric and anthropocentric arguments in veganism advocacy is notoriously popular in the animal liberation movement (an issue which was addressed here). In the case of advocacy for fishes, it is even more anthropocentric, since humans relate to fishes even less than they do to other animals. Therefore, despite that most of the exploited beings on earth are fishes, even in the animal liberation movement the center of attention is not the fishes’ suffering but rather the fact that as a consequence of the fishes’ exploitation other harms are caused.
For example, as earlier mentioned, the opposers claim that the film’s figures regarding ghost nets’ portion in plastic pollution in the ocean are wrong. Although it is not always easy to track the origin of plastic in the ocean, let alone when it breaks down to microplastic, it seems that indeed ‘ghost nets’ and other fishing gear’s share is enormous and maybe even the biggest. And it is definitely more harmful because it is specifically designed to catch fishes.
However, even that mustn’t be the main point. In animalistic terms, with a non-speciesist outlook, the main problem is not whether ghost nets cause more suffering than other plastic does, but that there are fishing nets. From an anti-speciesist perspective, there is no difference between ghost nets and nets which are still attached to a ship, for fishes they are all devil nets.
Another example is overfishing, an extremely speciesist term. Same as there is no such thing as over-exploiting, or over-slavery, there should be no such thing as over-fishing.
Obviously the film’s focus on “overfishing” was intentional and working under the assumption that humans care more about the oceans than they care about fishes. That is despite that oceans can’t feel, and fishes can, but humans don’t feel for them. However, besides perpetuating speciesism, this approach might have another dire consequence. Despite that in the film it is explicitly claimed that fish farms are extremely cruel in themselves, and that they are not at all free from ecological damages to the oceans as many of which are actually cages set in the ocean which cause heavy pollution, and that they are not at all distinct from commercial fishing since billions of fishes are caught in the oceans to be grind up and fed to the farmed fishes, that is nevertheless what many humans might choose to do as a consequence of them wanting to avoid “overfishing” and “by-catch”.
Fish farming, usually euphemized as aquaculture, is already the most rapidly growing agricultural industry with almost 10% average growth rate per year in the last four decades, and the consumption of factory farmed fishes already exceeded the one of caught fishes.
Humans have been “farming” fishes in net enclosures, ponds, vats and even woven baskets for thousands of years now. However in the last few decades, as the worldwide demand constantly rise while wild population is decreasing, the industry became extremely intensified, aiming at producing more fishes, bigger, faster and cheaper, to meet humans’ insatiable demand.
As in the case of the rest of humanity’s victims, the new inventive systems are far crueler as they cause intense suffering from birth to death for the fishes.
The film was heavily criticized for citing the dated prediction of ‘oceans empty of fish by 2048’, but the greatest threat of “overfishing” is not empty oceans but full fishponds.
“By-catch” and “sustainable fishing” are also extremely speciesist terms. And when such speciesist terms function as one of the main reasons not to eat fishes, humans’ state of mind for that matter, which is something like: ‘Oh wow I didn’t know that fishing – as in taking out of water and suffocating sentient beings that I like to eat – causes so much damage to sentient beings that I like to watch’, is not even challenged.
Obviously there is no way to make fishing acceptable because by definition it is harming fishes. It is like arguing whether there is or there isn’t an acceptable form of slavery because it may or may not cause the enslaving population to become lazy and dependent, instead of stating that it is never acceptable to enslave people.
There is no safe net because none of them are safe for fishes.
The following is a short video we have made about Dolphin Safe label
And another video about “sustainable fishing”
As mentioned earlier, some argue that the inaccuracies are marginal compared with the film’s important message, and some of those wonder what would have the film’s opposers done if not for the claimed inaccuracies?
But the more important question is what would have the film’s opposers done if not for the anthropocentric and speciesist messages of the film? What would the reaction be had the film not mentioned the numbers of marine animals being killed as “by-catch” but “merely” stated that humans are killing five million fishes per minute, or 2.7 trillion fishes per year, and that humans shouldn’t eat fishes because the fishes who are consumed are suffering? And the answer is none, since such a film would have never even been streamed on Netflix.
Seaspiracy, and the discussion around it, is another clear indication of the despair from humans’ morality, but unfortunately without the clear conclusion that must be drawn. Instead of reclaiming the power they shouldn’t have given to humans in the first place, activists continue to play into humans’ hands. It is another case of focusing on the victimizers, their interests, their motives, and what they are willing to do, instead of focusing on the victims and what they desperately need to be done.
Another common claim against the film is that it is vegan propaganda. As if it’s a bad thing.
Would the same people disapprove The Liberator for being antislavery propaganda? The Suffragette Newspaper for being feminist propaganda? Probably not.
Anyway this claim isn’t worth much consideration so we’ll skip it and pay more attention to its evolved version, and that is that veganism is an oversimplified solution because it is unrealistic that all people would go vegan, because hundreds of millions of people around the world are depended on coastal fisheries and so can’t go vegan, and because it will not solve all the problems of the ocean.
Before seriously confronting the serious parts of this claim, a few short comments about its less serious parts.
First of all, claiming about a film that successfully displays a very complex reality in which there are connections between corporations (inside and outside of the fishing industry), governments, enforcement agencies, and even environmental organization, and the fishing industry (connections which make it very hard to obtain reliable information about the fishing industry), that it is oversimplified, is ridiculous.
Secondly, this claim is to cowardly hide behind humans who supposedly can’t be vegan.
Even if for the sake of the argument we’ll accept that there are indeed humans who can’t be vegan, obviously it is not the ones who are making this claim, or anyone else that can watch this film on Netflix. They all can and must be vegan, but they won’t, cowardly hiding behind those who supposedly can’t, as if it can serve as a justified excuse for their own cruelty.
It is also very peculiar, as it is the fishing industry which “overfishes” and so without it, it would be easier for the humans they are referring to fish. So their claim should be that indeed anyone who can go vegan must do so, so the fishing industry would close down and stop polluting the homes and “steal” the “food source” of hundreds of millions of people around the world who depend on coastal fisheries.
Don’t get this claim wrong, this doesn’t imply that these humans are allowed to kill fishes, but that this claim is not only cowardly, but also perplexing.
Now, taking the claim that some people can’t be vegan more seriously, it is as if we are expected to shut up and accept that this is the situation. But if people cannot sustain themselves without severely harming many other sentient creatures then we mustn’t accept that this is the situation. In fact that is one of the main arguments of our movement, that humans can’t really sustain themselves without hurting others. Humans can relatively easily avoid hurting fishes by fishing if they avoid fishing, but it is practically impossible for them to avoid hurting fishes by polluting their habitats with pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, sewage, plastic, nylon, lead, aluminum, mercury, and plenty of other toxic waste, heavy metals and chemicals, while feeding themselves a vegan diet. And that’s only concerning fishes, obviously billions of land animals are systematically hurt by planet based agriculture as well as every other human activity. Human life is simply unsustainable in ethical terms.
Obviously veganism will not solve all the problems of the ocean since many of them are not related to animal consumption. Plastic and many other polluting materials are vegan, and many vegans are using them on a daily basis. Vegans are using the sewage system on a daily basis, they are eating vegan food which is produced with fertilizes, herbicides, and pesticides which end up in the ocean eventually, on a daily basis, they contribute to climate change which effects the ocean, they contribute to noise pollution in the ocean by consuming products transported by ships, and etc. It is inevitable.
The problem of the world is not that there are some people who can’t be vegan, and it is not that most of the ones who can won’t because they don’t want to, and it is not even that the few who do still can’t avoid hurting many animals, but it is all of it together, and a lot more. The problem is not that there is no one simple solution for all the problems that humans are causing, the problem is that there are no solutions at all. Just like there is no sustainable fishing, there is no sustainable human living. Humans are hurting just by being alive.
Confronting the problems in the world, activists shouldn’t change their ethical conclusions because these would be unacceptable by humans, but finally conclude that they don’t need humans’ acceptance in the first place. Especially not, considering that humans are the source of most of the suffering in the world, and that the key to preventing most of it, is forsaking them in every possible sense.