3 Essential Fact Checks for Seaspiracy - chooserighttoday

Seaspiracy brought the long-ignored problems of commercial fishing to the spotlight – bycatch of dolphins and other marine life on fishing vessels; pollution caused by plastic fishing nets; alarming abuse of human rights in the global fishing industry, and many other disturbing issues.

While the documentary exposed many dark sides of the fishing industry, many fishery scientists pointed out that some key statistics and claims in the documentary needed review.

Claim: The ocean will be empty by 2048

Fact check: Managed properly, 97% of fish stocks will be able to recover[1]

The statistic that the ocean will be empty by 2048 cited was cited from a study in 2006.

While overfishing is a pressing issue, the author of the cited study wrote in 2016 that the latest scientific models are telling us otherwise.

The latest models predicted that if we continue our current way of fishing, 88% of global fish stocks will be overfished in 2050. But if we can manage all fisheries correctly, 97% of fish stocks can recover.

In 2020, another study found that most of the world’s assessed fish stocks are witnessing increasing abundance. However, the same study also found that conditions are much less optimistic for fisheries with little management.[2]

Long story short, our problem is not in eating fish – it is in not managing fisheries correctly.


Claim: up to 40% of marine life caught gets thrown back overboard as bycatch

Fact check: Between 10 – 20% of total catches are discarded

Bycatch and discards are different concepts. Bycatch is the marine life caught unintentionally, but could also be taken to the market and consumed as food.

Meanwhile, discards, while also caught unintentionally, are the catches that are thrown back into the ocean. According to research in 2017, it’s estimated that discards make up 10 – 20% of the total catch globally.[3] These catches are mostly commercially valuable species, but are caught and discarded as a result of poorly managed fisheries.


Claim: “There is no such thing as sustainable fishing”

Fact check: 66% of the world’s marine fish stocks are still biologically sustainable[4]

While the film concluded sustainable fishing to be a hoax, it is possible to manage fisheries correctly based on the concept of “maximum sustainable yield” (MSY), an almost century-old fishery science concept.

MSY can be broken down into 3 main parts:

  1. Fishing too little: If we catch too little fish (i.e. below the MSY), fish will be abundant in the ocean but fishers might not gain enough profits
  2. Fishing moderately: if we fish just right (i.e. at the MSY), fish population will first decline and then stabilize at an intermediate level, while fishers can maintain a living
  3. Fishing excessively: If we catch too much fish (i.e. above the MSY), fish population will crash, leaving nothing for both the oceans and fishers in the long run

Simply put, fishing just right allows us to secure food while maintaining healthy fish populations.

Unfortunately, 34% of the world’s fisheries are fishing above the MSY, i.e. overfishing. But there are still 66% of fisheries who are fishing just right or too little.

We can easily find a list of fisheries who fish “just right” from the WWF-Hong Kong seafood guide – such as wild-caught scallops from Japan.

While quitting fish for good would reduce our ocean’s burden, it is not necessary to give up this omega-3 rich protein source when we can learn to choose right and choose wisely our seafood.


Fact check, fact check, fact check

Besides reducing seafood consumption or choosing only sustainable seafood, we can all put more emphasis on the importance of a critical mind and fact-checking.

For example, when an organization claims a seafood product to be sustainable, we should ALWAYS ask what is the organization’s definition of sustainability, or whether that organization is trustworthy. If you see a sustainable seafood label on a product, ask: is the label accredited?

In a world exploding with information, inaccurate or even false statistics can be everywhere. Rather than letting someone else tell us what is right or wrong, why not roll up our sleeves to find out the truth?


Information source:

[1] Worm, Boris. “Averting a global fisheries disaster.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 113, no. 18 (2016): 4895-4897.

[2] Hilborn, Ray, Ricardo Oscar Amoroso, Christopher M. Anderson, Julia K. Baum, Trevor A. Branch, Christopher Costello, Carryn L. De Moor et al. “Effective fisheries management instrumental in improving fish stock status.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 117, no. 4 (2020): 2218-2224.

[3] Zeller, Dirk, Tim Cashion, Maria Palomares, and Daniel Pauly. “Global marine fisheries discards: A synthesis of reconstructed data.” Fish and Fisheries 19, no. 1 (2018): 30-39.

[4] FAO. 2020. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2020. Sustainability in action. Rome. https://doi.org/10.4060/ca9229en

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