Netflix’s Seaspiracy sparks credibility concerns

Netflix’s Seaspiracy sparks credibility concerns

Netflix exposes the impact of global overfishing on the environment in its controversial documentary Seaspiracy. (Image source: Netflix, Inc.)

By Alycia Millar | @AlyciaMillar

Since airing on March 24, Netflix’s documentary Seaspiracy is still causing controversy after its negative portrayal of the fishing industry, with claims research was outdated and quotes were taken out of context.

The film follows British filmmaker Ali Tabrizi’s deep dive into the impact of overfishing on the environment, focusing on climate change and threats to the ocean’s ecosystems.

While Seaspiracy highlights some genuine issues about the fishing industry, it has been met with global backlash from the non-government organisations (NGOs) involved in the documentary and leading marine biologists.

One of which was marine ecologist from the University of York, Dr Bryce D. Stewart, who took to Twitter to express his frustrations about the skewed focus of the film.

“This is the worst kind of journalism. People will either believe it completely and overreact or find it so easy to discredit some of the statements that the real issues get downgraded. In this way I feel this film does more harm than good.” Dr Stewart tweeted.

The documentary is criticised for its narrow focus on the credibility of consumer labels, such as the Marine Stewardship Council’s (MSC) blue fish tick.

The MSC has since released a statement to “set the record straight on some of the misleading claims in the film”, addressing the film’s criticisms of the sustainable fishing movement.

In an interview with Inverse, Dr Stewart criticised the lack of diversity within the pool of interviewees, which consisted mainly of NGOs from the western world, as well as its failure to interview fisheries scientists.

A diverse selection of interviewees is always important, but particularly in the case of the fishing industry and sustainability due to its widespread significance across cultures.

Seafood plays an important role in many cultural traditions and religious ceremonies, such as Bengali weddings, where fish is eaten to symbolise the couple’s union.

The call-to-action asking consumers to stop eating seafood is the narrow-minded solution presented in Seaspiracy.

It fails to mention this is not a viable option for lower-income communities, coastal areas, or the three billion people globally who rely on seafood as a primary source of protein, according to World Wildlife Foundation’s 2019 study.  

Seaspiracy faces further criticism for its anti-Asian tropes, for seemingly no other purpose than to create a sense of blameworthiness, disregarding the industrialisation of the fishing industry from the drive of capitalism as the root of the problem.

UniSA’s Student Sustainability Collective (SSC) says Netflix’s progress in starting the conversation about sustainable eating through documentaries such as this one is a good start towards making an impact.

The SSC recommend students take action by joining their club, engaging in conversations about the environmental impact of diet and lifestyle and buying food from alternative sources, like community gardens.

“The most sustainable way to consume seafood is to catch it yourself… the ‘GoodFish’ app allows you to check the origin and impact of fish before purchasing [to] make informed choices,” the Student Sustainability Collective said.

James Cook University’s Fish and Fisheries Lab has released suggestions for ocean advocates post-Seaspiracy, including checking your privilege, thinking global, buying local, and above all being ethical and respectful.  

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