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Food, Health, and Eco-news
Documentary Seaspiracy Misses Sustainable Fishing’s Progress
Focusing on the worst practices in industrial fishing, the new film ignores environmentally responsible efforts that preserve fish stocks 04/05/2021 by Eric Betz

A new film is making waves with some shocking claims about the global seafood industry. Netflix’s Seaspiracy listed on the streaming service’s Top 10, has drawn headlines even as it’s caught the ire of fact-checkers over debunked science.

While making important points about plastics pollution and worker exploitation, the film also makes a number of dubious claims, including that Earth’s oceans will be empty of fish by 2048, a statistic pulled from a scientific study that even the original author has disputed for more than a decade.

This isn’t Netflix’s first foray into dubious claims regarding food production. One frequently cited example, a 2017 film called What the Health, suggested that eating a single egg is as damaging to human health as is smoking five cigarettes. At the time, Wired took the film to task for “gross distortions of scientific studies which themselves are full of intrinsic flaws.” But that didn’t stop Netflix from tapping the same filmmaker, who also runs a vegan recipe subscription service, to make Seaspiracy.

This latest film encounters many of the same pitfalls. As The New York Times put it, “even [Seaspiracy’s] notable points seem to emerge only briefly before sinking beneath the surface, lost in a sea of murky conspiratorial thinking.”

The film’s central premise is that sustainable seafood doesn’t exist. But many researchers and environmental groups have pointed out that’s simply not true. And here at Vital Choice, we’ve known, and shown since our founding over 20 years ago, that wild seafood can be procured sustainably.

Making the Vital Choice

For over two decades, Vital Choice’s core mission has been bringing our customers the most sustainable wild seafood. Our founders started the company on the belief that sustainable seafood is a “vital choice.”

“One of the many unfortunate things about Seaspiracy is its failure to acknowledge any of the progress that’s occurred in recent years,” said Vital Choice founder Randy Hartnell. “While there are still problems, today many wild-capture fisheries around the world have rebounded and stabilized thanks to responsible fisheries management, driven by conscientious consumers and companies like ours. This film does a disservice to them and to its viewers by failing to showcase the positive changes in fishing regulation and practice.”

Hartnell added “This is apparent in their failure to acknowledge that responsible fishermen are among the greatest allies of both fish and the environment. As one example, no one fought harder against Bristol Bay, Alaska’s, potentially catastrophic Pebble Mine, than the area’s commercial fishing community. The wild salmon runs have no greater advocates than those whose livelihoods they sustain.”

All of which only makes our mission more important. We go to great lengths to associate only with well-managed, ethical fisheries. For example, Vital Choice is a certified B Corporation, which means a third party verifies that we meet the highest standard of both social and environmental responsibility. See our Green Environmental Stewardship Program page for more.

We support only those suppliers who share in our vital mission to ensure the long-term health of the habitats where we source our seafood. We donate to ocean and wild-fish conservancy, and purchase annual carbon offsets that preserve vital wild salmon habitat. Every relationship is regularly reviewed to ensure our high standards are met to help maintain a healthy fish supply for future generations.

graph of US haddock population after fishing limit regulation implemented
One of many examples of how responsible regulation can help fish stocks revive.

Vital Choice’s salmon is harvested with highly regulated purse seine nets, gillnets, reef nets and baited fishing lines. These fishing methods minimize bycatch – the industry term for unwanted fish that are often killed – and don’t damage the seafloor.

Alaskan salmon runs are widely acknowledged to be among the most well-managed and sustainable in the world, as is evident by the millions of fish that return annually.

Finally, our seafood is frozen at or near where it’s caught, which is more environmentally friendly than “fresh” or farmed fish that must be flown from remote fishing areas to markets around the world. In contrast, all of our salmon is processed in the Pacific Northwest, then shipped frozen via ground transport, which has a dramatically lower carbon footprint.

Alaska’s Fisheries Turnaround

Though it’s easy to find examples of irresponsible fishing practices around the world, we need only look to America’s far north to find a case study in sustainability. In Alaska, a partnership between the government and commercial fishermen has yielded one of the longest-lasting and most robust models for sustainable fishing. It’s the reason Alaskan fishermen can deliver healthy, wild-caught salmon to customers year after year, and it’s part of the reason why Vital Choice sources its salmon from Alaskan waters.

The Alaska fisheries story represents a remarkable turnaround. In the 1950s, decades of overfishing and mismanagement caused salmon populations in the state to plummet. The dire situation forced fishermen to take a long, hard look at their practices, and team up with scientists and wildlife managers. Now, researchers from state agencies, in collaboration with the state’s Fish and Game Department and Board of Fisheries keep a close eye on fish populations and set yearly quotas that commercial fishermen carefully follow.

The principles of sustainable fishing are even written into Article VIII of the state’s constitution. Legal protections prevent fishing in sensitive areas critical to the health of marine life, and almost 100 Alaska troopers are dedicated to preventing illegal fishing.

The result: Alaskan fisheries produce hundreds of millions of pounds of salmon a year while ensuring that an abundance of fish swim free and ensure healthy populations for the future. A host of research groups, governmental bodies and environmental organizations now list many of Alaska’s fish as among the world’s most sustainable.

Today, Alaska serves as a shining example of how sustainable fishing can be a solution to the planet’s growing food problems.

Many Cultures Depend on Seafood

All around the world, people from a vast variety of cultures rely on seafood for quality protein, omega-3 fats and other important nutrients essential to optimal health. And as the global population climbs toward 10 billion by 2050, that dependence will only increase.

As the ocean-protection nonprofit organization Oceana said in a response to the film, “Choosing to abstain from consuming seafood is not a realistic choice for the hundreds of millions of people around the world who depend on coastal fisheries — many of whom are also facing poverty, hunger and malnutrition.”

Instead, the world needs a sustainable solution. Research shows that sustainable fisheries are more productive fisheries — they actually produce more food. Scientists have also found that setting aside significant marine protected areas can give fish a place to raise their young, which will also increase the production of fisheries.

Last year, a study published in the journal Nature showed that more than half of all global fisheries could be managed sustainably by 2050 if the world followed the lead of countries such as the U.S., New Zealand and Iceland.

And beyond providing additional protein and healthy fats, we’ll need fish to help combat climate change. Among animal proteins, seafood has the smallest environmental impact by far, according to a 2019 report from the EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets From Sustainable Systems.

As Alaskan fishermen showed the world more than half a century ago, when the fishing industry, government, researchers and consumers all work together, they can drive large-scale changes that are better for everyone. Sustainable fishing is our focus and passion at Vital Choice to maintain healthy oceans and seafood stocks for generations. It is the only viable path forward.

 

Sources:

Hilborn R, Quinn TP, Schindler DE, Rogers DE. Biocomplexity and fisheries sustainability. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2003;100(11):6564-6568. doi:10.1073/pnas.1037274100

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