Seaspiracy: Recognizable Propaganda

The concern with some slickly produced propaganda pieces, masquerading as “documentaries,” is that audiences will not recognize the film’s true agenda. Despite the artistic aerial shots, exciting albeit hyperbolic cloak-and-dagger scenes and stirring action-movie like sound track, there is little concern Seaspiracy will be mistaken for anything but a vegan indoctrination movie.

The film begins by suggesting, without evidence, that fisheries bycatch is an issue “governments [have] practically given up on enforcing.” Then touts a narrative that an “internationally recognized seafood label [is] a complete fabrication.” All this before whipsawing viewers from the argument that getting rid of plastic straws was once considered a pollution fix but that now the only real solution is getting rid of the entire commercial fishing sector.

Before long the producers describe a fishing vessel with the caveat that, “what it really is, is a death machine.” They then dive headlong into an embrace of the idea that the oceans will be empty by 2048, which is based on a completely debunked 2006 statistic, refuted by none other than the author of the original study. The 2048 statistic was put to rest by a follow-up report in the Journal Science released in 2009 under the title New hope for fisheries.

Gravitating towards the popular call to ban fishing in 30% of the oceans by 2030, the film turns to an author, who owns a vegan food company, an animal rescue sanctuary and is also apparently a dentist. His endorsement of the 30 by 30 slogan/policy is based on his calculation that, “in reality, less than 1% of our oceans are being regulated.” This is of course not only inaccurate it’s nonsensical. But it doesn’t end there. He goes on to compare choosing fish based on some eco labels to, “essentially saying  it’s more sustainable to shoot a polar bear than shooting a panda.”

During a segment on Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported fishing in Africa director Ali Tabrizi claims, “In the United States up to 1 in every 3 wild caught fish imported have been caught illegally and therefor sold illegally. Stolen, often from countries in most need.” The methodology behind this wildly inflated statistic has been picked apart in the very Journal where it first appeared; “Methods to estimate IUU are not credible.” Meanwhile, papers using the same approach have been retracted.  While IUU is a serious issue and unacceptable at any level, Tabrizi’s calculated film making seeks to conflate over estimated IUU numbers with U.S. seafood imports from Africa. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports less than 2% of U.S. seafood imports come from Africa.  

Before setting their sites on aquaculture, the filmmakers can’t help but slip in a vegan dog whistle in describing fishing boats they say “…It became clear these vessels were more like floating slaughter houses.”

Adeptly leading viewers down the primrose path, fish farming is lauded as a potential “method that could provide some kind of solution” before it is eviscerated with out of date tropes like the lie that farmed salmon is died pink. The film later digs up another classic in complaining about PCB’s in fish but never (ironically) mentions that Harvard University research finds seafood broadly, not just farmed salmon, makes up only 9% of the PCBs in the average American diet, while products like vegetables make up 20%. Yes, vegetables.

As the film begins its expected arch into unabashed vegan rhetoric about fish feeling pain and how, “animals… use democratic decision making,” it logs a chapter about labor abuses in the seafood space. This is a serious and concerning topic that the filmmakers bring nothing new to.  While their interviews with silhouetted victims are heartbreaking, what is really on display here is, as the New York Times put it, a “cheap imitation of hard-hitting investigative journalism.”

In the end the film sputters to a close with what is essentially a predictable commercial for highly processed plant-based alternative products.