This was a shock to watch. Like many of us, I was curious to know why this documentary was receiving such a high volume of people discussing it on social media. So, like everyone, I sat down to watch it expecting the documentary to just show cruelty towards fish during fishing trips, but I was not expecting what I saw.
Fishing is an interesting topic. So many people who participate in this "sport" (it is not a sport to me therefore I put speech marks!) explain that a hook simply won't hurt a fish and they will not feel it. There is a deep cruelty which lies within this. But apparently, according to many, this hook will not harm or cause discomfort to the fish when it pierces through its mouth. Well I hate to break it to you, but fish, like cats and dogs, have nerves too. So in simple terms, yes it does hurt them. It's not just physical pain, but it's terror too. You're taking something from its natural environment so obviously it's going to stress it out. It theoretically is suffocating. Upon doing my research I wasn't even aware, but with this fishing "sport" you see a lot of enthusiasts taking photos with their catches. Well again, this causes problems. Fish have this coating over their body, and to them, this is a sort of shield. When this protective coating is disturbed by our fingertips, it makes a fish more vulnerable to predators, once they are thrown back into the water. So even if you think fishing for fun didn't harm any creature, you're wrong again! Birds, turtles and other animals can suffer from this as lost hooks can be swallowed and suffocate these creatures.
I really wanted to investigate further into this topic and was curious to know, was there a way of "ethically sourcing fish". I spoke to a fishing company based in Bodmin, Cornwall called Fish For Thought. They claim to source sustainable seafood which is caught by them and sold through their website. They clearly had a lot to say upon the documentary and even agreed with some of the points it made. In agreement, within the fishing world, there are problems such as:
- illegal and unlegislated fishing
- damage to the environment due to fishing
It was because of these reasons even prior to the documentary release that this fishing company has chosen to be "sustainable" when it comes to sourcing their produce. The company explain that due to this documentary, they feel that now people will believe all fishing is as cruel as it was shown, which to them, is not the case. Because of this, they have chosen to not sell various types of fish due to the nature of where it is sourced or if they seem unsustainable the way they are caught.
Species they refuse to sell include:
- tiger prawns - these are normally sourced in South East Asia, where the industry has a reputation for destroying mangrove swamps, slave labour and extremely poor regulation. The feed that they used has also been linked to illegal fishing
- Tuna - this is normally important from the Pacific Ocean where the supply chains are remote, complex and can be very opaque
- Swordfish - this is an endangered species which means we should not be catching it, if it is at risk. This is normally imported in from the Pacific Ocean where again, the supply chains are remote, complex and opaque
- Ray Wings or Skate - they have an MCS (Marine Stewardship Council) rating of five and are deemed to be very unsustainable. They are a slow growing species that only produce a small amount of eggs a year making them very vulnerable to overfishing. Interestingly, their shape means they have a higher chance of being caught as by-catch of certain fishing methods targeting other species.
- Cod landed in the South West - fisheries are under a huge amount of pressure in the South West to catch cod. This is also not very sustainable. Instead FFT choose to source their cod from the more sustainable Shetland Fisheries
There are obviously various other breeds of fish they choose not the source due to the nature of the sustainability.
The good news is that in the UK and most the South West/Cornwall, there are fisheries that have been proven to be scientifically sustainable. The FTT company also like to enforce a more sustainable way to catch their fish. Below are some of their methods:
all crab and lobster are pot-caught, a truly selective and low impact method of fishing, which in Cornwall and the South West is closely regulated to protect future stocks
pollack, bass & mackerel are line-caught only, a very selective and low impact method of fishing, done by small inshore dayboats
hake is gill-netted by a fleet of boats and a fishery that enjoy MSC accreditation and enjoys an MCS rating of 1
sardines are only sourced from the Cornish ring-netter fleet
we source gill-netted and demersal trawled gurnard
flat fish, including Cornish sole, lemon sole, dover sole and brill are gill netted and demersal trawled
occasionally we do source fish from Beam trawlers, but only species that are on the ‘Recommended’ list for the Cornwall Good Seafood Guide for this catch method.
* the above comes from the Fish For Thought Website
The fishing industry has heavily relied on transporting their fish in polystyrene packaging, but this is something that the Fish For Thought company has chosen not to do. Over 5 years ago they therefore switched to a fully recyclable solution using sheep's wool as the main insulator, rather than polystyrene that ironically might end up in our oceans.
It seems great that there are fisheries out there who have identified the ongoing issues there are within the fishing industry. Obviously, you cannot tell someone to stop eating fish. But you can advise to make more sustainable choices when it comes to choosing fish.
It is clear, however, that there are other problems which effects the marine life. If you have seen the documentary, then you will understand that if we lose the majority of fish in our oceans, then the earth dies, as they provide the oxygen we need to survive. Now one of the biggest threats we face is mankind. We have created killers like plastics, which take thousands and thousands of years to decompose, whilst in the meantime continue to pollute our oceans. I had a few people come up to me after the Seaspiracy documentary was released saying "what can we do to help", to which I really did not know as I am not a specialist in that department. So I went to research it as with problems such as the marine world becoming harmed, I'm sure everyone would want to make a difference but just wouldn't know how or where to begin. This is where I found myself in contact with Falmouth Marine Conservation. I asked them how could we reduce our plastic intake as I was being asked this myself.
Falmouth Marine Conservation were extremely helpful and provided me with a lot of information that I think is really important to share with you, the reader. So when it comes to reducing our plastic intake there is actually so many ways we can do this. The best advice would be to aim to buy as little single use plastic whilst doing your weekly shop, for example buying loose veg where possible (to be honest I have always done this as I've always thought that extra plastic bag to put your loose vegetables in was pretty pointless). Making easy sustainable swaps, such as solid shampoo bars, bamboo toothbrushes, reusable coffee cups and bottles, etc, is an easy and effective action you can do for the environment. The single use plastic industry was created with 'single use' as the selling point, however, this has become the problem. The disposable nature of plastic and many other products has created a throw away culture and through the Investment of better quality sustainable options that last longer and be reused or repaired will help diminish this issue . Many companies sadly greenwash their products to make them look more environmentally friendly or biodegradable, but sadly these products often tend to be just as harmful to the environment as regular plastics. Nobody is perfect and every small change or piece of single use plastic avoided makes a difference if everyone does it!
Secondly, I then asked the conservation if there are currently any problems regarding the fishing industry similar to the ones shown on the Netflix documentary. Using local trusted fishmongers, restaurants and fish and chip shops, means you know where your fish comes from, which is key to ensuring your fish consumption is more sustainable. This is because small scale fisheries have smaller boats rather than large trawlers, so in principle creates less damage to the seafloor, wildlife and decreases the levels of bycatch. However, there is no way of proving or monitoring this, so reducing your fish and seafood intake is a good idea for preventing further environmental damage. A useful place to start with more sustainable seafood is the Cornwall Good Seafood guide!
There is also a few things you could do yourself to understand the fishing industry:
- Reading about environmental issues online or in papers can make you feel distanced from the problems at hand, it's important to remember the decisions you are making right now are having an impact in the long run, not only locally but also globally. Every conscious choice you make to have more sustainable seafood from local sources is worth it. If you can't trace the source of your fish then it is not the most sustainable choice.
- Figures and statistics wise there is nothing we can give you without just doing a generic google. But it would be interesting to mention Brexit and how such a large proportion of fish landings in the UK comes from the same people! Which causes small independent fisheries to struggle.
So in the long run, there are plenty of things we can do to help. It is such an important topic to think about; obviously I have some more developed views upon the mistreatment of innocent animals shown in the documentary, but perhaps that is for another time! If you haven't already, I highly recommend you watching the Seaspiracy documentary; you may consider you way of life after watching it...
Thanks to Falmouth Marine Conservation and Fish For Thought for speaking to me.