Opinion: Seaspiracy documentary shows outdated, sensationalist view of the East

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A new Netflix documentary is making waves around the world. Seaspiracy by British filmmaker Ali Tabrizi has sparked conversations about how we treat the oceans and how sustainable the supply chain for our seafood actually is.

But among conservationists and environmentalists, the film has been met with controversy and pushback. Tabrizi has, in his zealous quest to protect the ocean, misread facts or ignored them completely. (Read more here)

There have also been accusations that Tabrizi has misrepresented the subjects he interviewed or taken their words out of context. The New York Times said that the documentary was “lost in a sea of murky conspiratorial thinking.”

As marine biologist Jean Utzurrum notes in a social media post, “[Seaspiracy] wasn’t entirely terrible if you disregard all the factual inaccuracies, manipulation of interviews, overtones of anti-Asian racism, and grossly false retelling of Gerlie Alpajora’s death.”

Thailand in the spotlight

In Seaspiracy, Thailand’s fishing industry was also featured quite prominently. Thai Enquirer has spoken to several organizations about how the fishing industry has been portrayed in the film and every organization including the Environmental Justice Foundation and the Thai government agree that the film misrepresents the situation on the ground and at sea.

While the film was only to happy to point out the gross labour abuses that occur in Thailand and the developing world (with solemn narration and appropriate music) not once are locals consulted or featured on screen. The scene depicting Thailand wasn’t even filmed in Thailand.

Every expert interviewed was Caucasian and/or representing Western organizations. This hasn’t been lost on movie critics around the world who have accused Tabrizi of ignoring local voices in the quest to push a narrative.

Additionally, while the accusations about slavery and forced labour in the fishing supply chain in Thailand was true in 2016, the narrative that was pushed no longer represents the reality of the situation.

Thai Enquirer has written in the past about the need for the Thai government to continue to step up its campaign to fight forced labour and migrant labour issues in the fisheries industry, but experts and watchdogs including the United States Trafficking in Persons report has noted that significant measures have been put in place to combat against human trafficking within the fisheries industries.

The singling out of Thailand’s fisheries industry is also particularly troublesome when the issue of forced labour and migrant workers working without labour protections is something that is a concern world-wide.

Central thesis questioned

Perhaps the biggest pushback by environmentalists about Seaspiracy is its central claim that humanity must stop consuming fish if we are to save the oceans.

The NGO Aquaculture Alliance has drawn into question the science behind the documentary including the premise that the world’s oceans will be devoid of fish in 27 years if global consumption levels remain. It also calls the film sensationalist.

Representatives from the Environmental Justice Foundation have also told Thai Enquirer that the film disregards low-income communities around the world where “not everyone has the luxury of choosing their protein sources.”

“Fish is actually one of the cheapest protein available in many regions including those under the poverty line,” the EJF representative told Thai Enquirer.

Other environmentalists agree with the assessment.

“There is definitely a problem with fishing methods and overfishing,” a marine biologist working with Chulalongkorn University told Thai Enquirer by phone. “But to suggest that a complete abstinence from the consumption of fish is irresponsible. What is needed is sustainable fishing and cooperation with the international community.

“The notion presented by Tabrizi that there is a conspiracy among the industry, scientists, and international organizations is childish, conspiracy-fuel, and hinders the conversation that we need to have about protecting the world’s oceans. It is utterly irresponsible.”


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