I had heard great things about this documentary from several people I greatly respect. A couple of them were people on the right who I wouldn’t have thought would be persuaded to become more environmentally aware through the means of a Netflix documentary. So it was with high hopes that I pressed play.
They were soon to be somewhat dashed. Don’t get me wrong; I consider myself to be quite environmentally aware. I suspect I am the only person who has ever made a speech on the dangers of Acid Rain to a Conservative Party conference back in 1986. I deplore excess packaging and will go out of my way not to buy things wrapped in excessive plastic. I’ve also just ordered an electric car to replace my Diesel SUV 4×4. Get me, eh?
So I approached this documentary with a sympathetic ear. The programme’s primary aim was to educate us on how our seas are so polluted, and that the fishing industry is so corrupt that there is an unspoken conspiracy to rape and pillage our seas to destruction. The pollution part played a secondary role, mainly because we’re much more familiar with the argument. Sky’s Ocean Rescue initiative did a superb job in raising oceanic pollution up the political agenda.
The on-screen documentary maker Ali Tabrizi had a simple aim – to do for the oceans what Al Gore did for Climate Change in his film An Inconvenient Truth. The trouble is, he used outdated tabloid journalistic techniques to do so. He often turned up in a company or NGO’s office demanding an interview with someone about something. He knew full well you don’t get interviews on that basis, ever. Yet he thought it would add a bit of drama. It didn’t. You do not need to exaggerate a case to make it well. And in many ways, Ali Tabrizi made a compelling case that the worldwide fishing industry, especially when it comes to tuna and dolphins, is riddled with corruption and dominated by mafioso types.
Several of his talking heads warned him he was in mortal danger if he pushed his investigation too far. Our intrepid Ali went ahead nonetheless and travelled to the world’s main centres of whaling. Well, Japan anyway. What he found did, to be fair, make for some pretty shocking watching. But that was nothing compared to the horrors of the programme’s final scene in the Faroe Islands, where we were treated to what can only be described as blood bath scenes from a horror movie. Speedboats rounded up dolphins/young whales in a bay, and they were then ritually slaughtered, many of them wrenched out of the water onto the beach and butchered. The bay was a sea of red. It was awful.
What the documentary demonstrated well was that the Dolphin friendly labels you see on Tuna products are purely designed to give the consumer the warm glow of buying a sustainable and environmentally friendly product when they do nothing of the sort.
It also showed that governmental attempts to regulate fish hauls/catches are also illusory. So-called bi-catching, where nets catch forbidden fish and the primary catch, is totally out of control and no amount of government observers aboard fishing vessels seem able to do anything about it. Indeed, the film also asserted that more than 40 government observers have met unfortunate ends or gone missing over the last 20 years, all over the world.
Many parts of this film were concerning, but you never felt Tabrizi had all the evidence he needed to make some of his charges stick. Rather like Al Gore, some of his statistics are now being called into question. The New Statesman says: “The film’s over-simplification and outdated statistics risk adding to the challenges already facing the world’s oceans.”
Many of the talking heads interviewed have complained that some of their comments have been taken entirely out of context. The film claims that the world’s fish stocks will run out by 2048. This is based on a 2006 report whose author has now said it is totally out of date.
Unfortunately, despite having noble aims, Seaspiracy’s core messages are undermined by a simplistic, sometimes tabloid approach to the subject and a lack of rigour. It’s an opportunity missed.