Surely there is a term in psychology, or wider science in general to explain how sometimes only a part of the truth is shown, ignoring the rest of the details, to allow one to make the point that they intend to make. Whether this makes the narrative a lie or not is a debate for philosophy. I realize that it certainly does not show us the full picture, possibly contributing to misinformation for the sake of fulfilling a bias, agenda, or a hypothesis. That is the sour feeling I had at the end of Seaspiracy. Reeled in by concern, disappointed by propaganda-adjacent messaging.
This was not my initial feeling when I first came across the 90-minute documentary released sometime last month on Netflix. The first thing that struck me about it was the familiar-sounding name. Nonetheless, it was interesting. As soon as I hit play, I knew I was taking in some amazing, new information about the oceans and fishing. I was especially impressed by how the makers found their ways through at least a few significant issues around the world and reached the point of asking out loud about a solution.
The storytelling is clever and clean. The maker and narrator Ali personalises it with his childhood interests serving as a stepping stone. He talks to a lot many people, some of them holding the power and money, some with the knowledge, and some warriors and protectors. It is clear in the first five minutes that this is the good fight, and we’d like to be with it, not against it. (Those against would rarely find themselves watching something like this for leisure.)
They take a look at everything from dolphins, whales, and sharks to shrimp, from Scotland to Thailand. We often find them risking their lives and trying to uncover the truth while facing threats. All this brings to light the various nexuses that exist in industries such as industrial fishing and goods marketed ‘sustainable’.
Somewhere in the last thirty minutes of the film, I remembered why the name sounded familiar. It was close to Cowspiracy, the documentary a friend recommended to me (and everyone they could), telling me how it would expose the meat industry and you’ll give up meat after watching it. (What ensued was a civilised debate!)
If I am being honest, at least a couple of times during this viewing, I was either ready to be convinced to give up eating fish or to turn vegetarian for good. (Vegetarian, not vegan.) However, in the background of this thought, I was also thinking about the place of fish in my diet, my life, and what giving it up would mean.
Fish is a staple in the traditional cuisine that was passed down to me. Picking up a tiny plastic basket bag on a Sunday morning, I walked out with my grandmother to the fish market, where buyers like her spoke to the fisherwomen in ways I didn’t understand. I remember coming back home with her having successfully made the purchases she wanted to, along with quite a bit of socializing. These sellers weren’t people who treated selling fish as a mere occupation. They were people of a community who belonged to this land since way before it was colonized, urbanized, and is currently the seventh most populated city in the world. Being a fisherman/woman was a way of life passed down from generation to generation, as with agriculture, even today.
I imagine there have to be several such communities around the world where fishing, and the way it is done, has been an integral part of a wider society, as are occupations like agriculture or carpentry or being a performing artist. I am sure there are parts of the world where fish is an integral part of the culture and cuisine, as there are parts where vegetarianism is the default choice of people born into it.
When thinking about turning to vegetarianism, I couldn’t help but think about the way community circles around this part of the world function. Coastal communities traditionally depend on fishing and have been that way for centuries and generations. What’s even more admirable is that before the industrialization of various traditional sectors, they were managing this fairly sustainably, contributing to a larger ecosystem.
I quite enjoyed watching this documentary, minus the preachy, “The only option is going vegan” messaging. Even with everyone going vegan, the seas are not safe. Our oceans are facing way too much. Pushing the onus entirely on consumers by appealing to the good in them has not much bore fruit in the past. The fight against smoking has always been about asking the smoker to quit while letting e-cigarettes take the place of cigarettes instead of adding cost to production to discourage it.
What documentaries like this starkly fail to do is move beyond their agenda and look at the problems realistically, so that real solutions are designed. I am still glad I watched it does take you to places you never thought existed or didn’t think about them. It misses out on a lot but captures the tip of the iceberg quite elaborately.
I am a simple writer who wishes to use her skill to create more awareness about the planet that offers us life.