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seaspiracy 350pxIn Thorupstrand in Denmark the fisherboats are still being pulled back on the beach every evening.The devastating exploitation of our oceans is a gigantic problem which urgently deserves greater attention. “Seaspiracy”, a documentary broadcast on Netflix, a streaming platform, has raised awareness of this catastrophe by shining a merciless light on the dark sides of the international fishing industry of which there are doubtless countless examples. However, this light is so harsh that it almost obliterates all the successful alternatives and solutions which have been seen to work.

The general tenor of this documentary is that making industrial fisheries sustainable is a goal impossible to achieve. This statement is both wrong and dangerous.

The reason it is wrong is that the documentary unfairly attributes the genuine and indisputable problems created by the international fishing industry to practically all forms of commercial fishing in one general sweep and by presenting falsehoods as facts. The reason this is dangerous is because it undermines the valuable and invaluable work done by numerous organisations and businesses which have been committed to truly sustainable and environmentally friendly commercial fishing methods for many years and have been successful in putting them into practice.

Sustainable fisheries are possible – and, above all, essential!

A considerable proportion of the world’s population still depends on fish as their main source of protein. There can be no question of putting a complete stop to commercial fishing, especially considering the growth in our global population and the need for healthy food.

There is, moreover, one aspect of the debate over food which is often overlooked: however food is produced, it will always leave an ecological footprint. The great advantage of wild caught fish is that it does not require any input in resources for it to grow and reproduce. If we do not harvest it in quantities greater than the replacement rate and if the fishing techniques are designed to protect the oceans, lakes and rivers which make up whole ecosystems, the ecological footprint can be reduced to a minimum.

The word “fisheries“ covers a wide range of practices

Admittedly, we still have a long way to go to achieve this goal. Currently, one third of global fish stocks are over-fished. The main reason for this catastrophic situation is inadequate regulations or just plain criminal fishing, poor fisheries management and destructive fishing methods, all of which is aggravated by climate change.

The other two thirds are caught in compliance with biologically sustainable parameters (SOFIA 2020, FAO), but here too it is necessary to take a closer look. All the same, the film’s assertion that our oceans will be totally depleted by 2048 is incorrect. The survey issued in 2006 was withdrawn by its authors themselves some years ago. If defined quotas are adhered to, such as those calculated by the MSY (maximum sustainable yield) method, they will ensure sources of healthy fish stocks in the future.

There is a range of factors which determine whether fishing can be deemed sustainable. Besides fishing quotas and fishing methods, significant elements are good fisheries management and the observation of socially responsible practices.

Naturland Wildfish: transparency and bespoke requirements ensure sustainability

The Naturland Wildfish brand is a seal testifying to made-to-measure certification. Every fishing business is scrutinised as a project in its own right and evaluated using a transparent procedure applied jointly by the authorities, scientists and environmental organisations. This method produces tailor-made management requirements which take into consideration the actual respective environments of each fishing enterprise in order to be sure the project is sustainable. Aspects pertaining to social responsibility such as labour and human rights are monitored during inspection to ascertain compliance with Naturland’s social standards.

Other NGOs are also working on the establishment of concepts for sustainable fisheries. Anyone is at liberty to question and even criticise the objectives and implementation of such certification bodies in detail, as indeed frequently occurs in the case of one of the major players on this market, MSC (Marine Stewardship Council).

However, one thing is clear: the topic of fisheries requires differentiated consideration. Then, and only then, can we expect to find solutions for the operation of truly sustainable fisheries. And whilst documentaries like “Seaspiracy“ are completely justified in shaking us out of our complacency, efforts already being made to find solutions should not be completely discounted.

Organic aquaculture combines satisfying demand with protecting the environment

In addition to its focus on fisheries, a short sequence of “Seaspiracy“ also deals with the topic of aquaculture. Here too, justified criticism is marred by one-sided reporting and in some cases falsehoods which are condensed into one horrifying message, namely that any efforts made to resolve the situation would be in vain.

Take, for example, the criticism made that 5 – 20 kg of wild fish are required to produce 1 kg of farmed salmon: this claim is a thing of the past and Netflix has in the meantime suppressed the corresponding footage. For a long time now, modern feed no longer consists solely of fish meal and oil but also contains a wide range of vegetable matter. Furthermore, fish performs far better in sustainability rankings than other farm animals such as cattle, pigs or chickens, because of its better feed conversion factor.

However, it cannot be denied that aquaculture still faces many challenges, just as the Netflix documentary has shown them, thus demonstrating that aquaculture requires conscientious management if it is to be sustainable. It was precisely for this reason that, in 1996, Naturland drafted the first standards ever for organic aquaculture, with the aim of guaranteeing animal welfare, feed from sustainable sources, protection of ecosystems and fair labour conditions from beginning to end of the value chain.

Less is more – responsible consumption

Every form of food production has an effect on the environment. The suggestion that certain types of food, such as fish, be eliminated from our diets completely, as proposed by the film, therefore does nothing to solve the problems, but just shifts them to another sector.

What is important is that each and every one of us produces our food in as sustainable a manner as possible and consumes it with respect and a sense of responsibility. In other words, whether we eat fish or meat: less is more. But it also means that, by eating less fish and, when we do buy it, choosing fish and seafood produced sustainably, we are making a significant contribution to the protection of our environment and our oceans.

Related link: Find a detailed critique of the film by Daniel Pauly, a marine biologist at the University of British Columbia, which shines the light on other aspects, too: here.