1. Slaves caught your fish. Despite efforts to reform the industry since 2014, a 2020 report from UnderCover Asia says that the perpetrators have found ways around the new regulations. The fishermen come from poor countries around Thailand and some are as young as 13 years old. One victim who worked on boats for five years described the conditions as hell. He claimed he worked around the clock and was sometimes only allowed to sleep for 30 minutes a day.
2. Whales are the single best natural solution for fighting climate change. However, 300,000 dolphins, whales and porpoises are killed every year in fishing nets according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), either getting caught as bycatch or in a lost or discarded net. The WWF says that industrial fishing is the biggest threat to cetaceans. Scientists estimate that 50% to 80% of the world’s oxygen comes from the phytoplankton in the ocean and that it sequesters 40% of all CO2. Whale poo acts as a fertiliser for it, making the marine mammal an essential part of the earth’s ecosystem. Increasing the whale population by just 1% would be the equivalent of planting 2 billion trees.
3. Industrial fishing is destroying 3.9 billion acres (an area over three times the size of the Amazon) of seafloor every year by bottom trawling. This is when a boat drags a heavy-weighted net along the ocean floor and kills everything in its path. According to a study published in 2021 bottom trawling releases one gigaton of CO2 per year, which is higher than all pre-pandemic aviation emissions.
4. Most of the world’s large ocean plastic is ghost gear (discarded fishing equipment). One study found that 70% (by weight) of macro plastics (above 20cm) floating on the ocean’s surface was fishing related. This fishing equipment continues to kill fish and other animals for years, even decades after it was discarded. Eliminating fish from your diet is the single biggest thing you can do to reduce ocean plastic pollution.
5. A study published in 2003 estimated that the fishing industry has wiped out 90% of large fish like sharks, marlin, tuna, and swordfish. To allow these species to recover, we need to stop eating fish.
6. Seaspiracy says that 30,000 sharks per hour are killed for their fins or as bycatch. According to a 2012 study published in Marine Policy, that number is probably closer to 11,500 per hour or about 100 million every year, although the authors acknowledge that the number could be as high as 273 million. To put this into perspective, sharks kill about 12 humans per year. Sharks are apex predators and play an important role in keeping the ocean ecosystem in balance. Without them, some species might overpopulate leading to dead zones in the ocean.
7. The fishing industry captured, injured or killed 250,000 turtles in the US alone, because of bycatch. The primary killer of turtles is not plastic bags or straws, it is industrial fishing.
8. Fish Farms create an immense amount of pollution and act as incubators for disease and they provide almost half of our seafood. This is true whether the fish came from a farm in Scotland or America. Salmon naturally have a lot of parasites including, sea lice, viruses and bacteria. When you cram them into a pen together, this creates a breeding ground for disease and outbreaks are common. Like livestock, they pump these fish full of antibiotics and other chemicals to stave off disease, which humans end up ingesting.
9. Fish are full of toxins. Many people eat fish because of the perceived health benefits. However, a 2016 report from the Scripps Institute found that fish populations throughout the world’s oceans are contaminated with industrial and agricultural pollutants like DDT, mercury, PCBs, flame retardants, and coolants. These toxins have been linked to everything from cancer to lower IQ and can accumulate in the flesh and fat as big fish consume smaller fish. If you want Omega 3s in your diet you are better off taking algae oil than you are eating fish.
10. Fish and shellfish are full of microplastics. According to an article from the Journal of Aquatic Food Product Technology, they have discovered microplastics in many species of fish and shellfish that are consumed by humans. In her book, Count Down epidemiologist Shanna Swan suggests that hormone-disrupting chemicals found in plastics are contributing to the 50% drop in sperm count from men in western countries over the past 40 years. Sexual development in women is also changing and is leading us towards a world of infertility.
11. Factory fishing fleets are destroying the ability of subsistence fishermen to earn a living. The documentary focuses on European fishing fleets that come down to African waters and overfish them, leaving nothing for the local fishermen, but this happens in Thailand and the rest of the world as well.
12. Overfishing increases the risks of another pandemic. Since the local fishermen in Africa can’t compete with the factory fishing ships, they resort to hunting bushmeat like bats, monkeys, rats, snakes and other animals for their protein. This increases the chance of a zoonotic transfer, which could lead to an Ebola breakout or a new viral pandemic like we are experiencing with COVID-19.
13. Mangrove forests are being destroyed for shrimp farms that use slave labour. Many of these are often children who are used to clean, pick and process the product. They pump farmed shrimp full of antibiotics which can lead to resistance. Worldwide, 67% of mangrove forests have been cut down for shrimp production in Thailand that number is over 85%. Mangroves help prevent flooding, sequester CO2 and are a vital source of biodiversity.
14. Globally $35 billion goes to fishery subsidies, which directly contribute to overfishing. So your tax dollars are being used to destroy the world’s oceans.
15. There are plant-based substitutes for fish and shrimp available that taste almost as good as the real thing and are much healthier to eat. Three that are available at Villa Market are Quorn vegan fishless sticks, Fry’s prawn pieces and fish fillets. You can also order dozens of vegan seafood and other meatless products from JFoodMarket
What You Can Do
Move to a plant-based diet eliminating or reducing most seafood including fish, shrimp, lobster and crab. It is the single biggest thing you can do to fight climate change and reduce plastic pollution.
If you want to eat seafood bivalves like oysters, mussels, clams, and scallops can be grown sustainably and help to clean the water, although they can be high in microplastics so eat them in moderation.
Governments need to end the $35 billion in subsidies it gives to the fishing industry and redirect it toward feeding people with plant-based foods, which would effectively end world hunger.
In the meantime, we could replace the current destructive practices with marine aquaculture that is regenerative and helps clean and repair the ocean. For example, Phuket could introduce oyster farms like the Billion Oyster Project in New York Harbor. This was introduced in 2014 and has built 13 oyster reefs that create bio-diverse habitats where fish and other marine life thrive. The project has produced 30 million oysters and each one can filter up to 190 litres of water per day. This has led to cleaner waters and the return of large marine life like dolphins and whales, which hadn’t been seen in decades.
Phuket could also create seaweed and shellfish farms that produce mussels, clams, and scallops and can clean the ocean by removing CO2 and other contaminants from the water, provide habitats for marine life and offer fishermen a way to make a living without polluting.
At the end of the film Seaspiracy, famed oceanographer Sylvia Earle poignantly adds, “We must protect that which remains. No one can do everything but everyone can do something, look in the mirror and figure it out.”
Palmer Owyoung is an environmental activist working with the Kamala Green Club and the Global Sustainability Hub.