Credit: GG Photography and Illustrations Manager Allison Campbell

Seaspiracy has a poorly-cast investigative net

By Gabriel Wheway

Despite addressing the shocking causes of ocean life decimation, Seaspiracy’s rhetorical methods distract from its potential revelations. 

Seaspiracy seeks to document the profound impact of commercial fishing within our oceans, attracting multiple celebrity endorsements, trendy Instagram posts and plaudits from fans with its damning depiction of the harm the industry does to ocean life. Offering a turbulent and wavering perspective on global fishing issues, the director and impassioned narrator Ali Tabrizi voyages from Europe to Asia, adopting an increasingly dramatic stance from one revelation to the next. Upon initially watching the documentary, it seems that Tabrizi has the intention of utilising investigative journalism; yet the film’s rhetorical style presents itself more as an uncertain and aggressive form of reporting. The agenda that he pushes is most certainly well-founded yet his approach is highly questionable and lacks academic qualification throughout. 

Seaspiracy intends on being a study of ocean debris, yet Tabrizi’s vacillating culmination of radical opinion on marine destruction results in a tour of environmental issues that the oceans are rife with. The sense of urgency and sheer peril Tabrizi pervades the film with, at times lacks true sincerity due to its overt dramatization. From a tuna port in Japan to a salmon farm on the coast of Scotland, the narrator lurks around corners and seems to unnecessarily veil himself in the darkness like some sort of covert agent. Tabrizi ensures that we are aware that the shark fin markets in China are filmed with hidden spy cameras, and his poor form of investigative journalism is so obstructive that the interviewee is left bewildered by questions that are almost irrelevant. Efforts to examine human rights abuses within the Thai fishing industry obviously are tentative due to the actual risks caused to Tabrizi and his team’s lives. 

From the get-go, Tabrizi’s investigative methods are relentless and the documentary seeks to be raw and unfiltered. This is fulfilled to such an extent that any decent scriptwriter would be ashamed of Tabrizi’s cringe-worthy presentation on such a sensitive issue. 

The reaction to the film has definitely been mixed, with the Marine Stewardship Council and leading marine ecologists doubting many of the serious claims made by Tabrizi. Regardless of any fact-checking done in light of watching, Seaspiracy has most definitely achieved its goal in stirring an instinctual reaction, highlighting issues that do lack coverage in the mainstream media. The claim that has caused the most controversy is Tabrizi’s statement that sustainable fishing is myth. Criticism has particularly come from the Marine Stewardship Council, who insist that “fish stocks can recover and replenish if they are managed carefully”, pointing to examples with Namibian hake and Argentinian toothfish. Further, Dr Bryce Stewart, a marine ecologist and expert fisheries biologist, accuses the film of completely “misleading” viewers. Her comments virtually confirm any assumed criticism a casual viewer would adopt. Stewart writes that “it regularly exaggerates and makes links where there aren’t [any]”. As of 12 April, more eyebrows had been raised regarding the supposed facts Tabrizi rattles off. Thanks to Biomar, a leader in sustainable aquaculture feeds, Netflix has forced Seaspiracy to retract the claim that it requires 5-20kg of forage in order to farm 1kg of salmon. The more scrutiny Tabrizi comes under, the less inclined an audience will be to truly trust the sensationalised claims he continually makes. Thus, when watching Seaspiracy, it is crucial to keep in mind that arguments made by Tabrizi are hardly black and white. Unfortunately, for many viewers, this will go unnoticed, and its impact will be inevitably long-lasting. 

Amongst heavy criticism for his single-minded approach, Tabrizi does shed a pivotal light on areas of the fishing industry that engage in shocking techniques and practices. Yes, Seaspiracy does extant some reasonable pieces of reporting, the most measured found in the inquiry into dolphin-safe tuna can labels, and, perhaps surprisingly, the horrible interviews addressing slave labour within the industry. On such a small budget, Tabrizi has achieved exactly what they sought to do: directly confronted power, which so many media giants have repeatedly failed to do. The thrust of the film is absolutely correct: there are well-founded studies that address industrial fishing and the major issue that is driving many wildlife populations and ecosystems around the world. It is necessary that we define our relationship with the blue planet and become increasingly more aware of the deterioration of our ocean. Seaspiracy has very much started this important conversation. Yet, these points that can be commended are almost a momentary lapse in a flimsy net of conspiratorial thinking from Tabrizi. Got any reliable sources Ali? Go – fish. 


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