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Tomorrow’s world

The seafood industry threatens our oceans

Tan Dao Duy/Getty Images

The “mafia-esque” seafood industry uses some shocking practices, according to the new Netflix documentary Seaspiracy. Thai shrimp fleets employ slave labour. Whistleblowers who reveal what the industry gets up to have been murdered at sea. And an entourage of police, secret service and “undercover cops”, says the documentary’s maker, Ali Tabrizi, tried to stop me exposing the damage this multibillion-dollar racket is doing to the ocean.

It’s enough to put anyone off their “lightly dusted lemon sole”, says Charlotte Cripps in The Independent. I had no idea discarded plastic fishing equipment makes up 46% of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” — a 600,000-square-mile slurry of human waste in the Pacific Ocean — or that overfishing is “more dangerous than deforestation”. If Tabrizi is right, we could have more or less “empty oceans” by 2048.

Tabziri takes some cheap shots, says Natalia Winkelman in The New York Times. There’s some “surprisingly memorable” journalism – especially an inquiry into tinned tuna that is labelled “dolphin-safe”, but turns out to be nothing of the sort – but it gets lost in a sea of “murky conspiratorial thinking”. Let’s not skip over the seriously “misleading” reporting, either, says Emma Gatten in The Daily Telegraph. The “empty oceans” nonsense stems from a 2006 statistic that was “questionable to begin with”. Guardian columnist George Monbiot, who’s quoted in the film, wants us to stop eating fish altogether – which would be a “crass” blow to countless coastal communities that survive on responsible, sustainable fishing.

Nevertheless, big fleets are a menace, says Alex Fox in Smithsonianmag.com. We already knew that their nets indiscriminately destroy deep-sea corals, seaweed forests and “anything else in their path”. But bottom trawlers release as much carbon into the ocean as “the entire aviation industry”, according to a new study. Huge ships plough up 1.9m square miles of seafloor a year, releasing up to a gigaton of carbon dioxide stored in marine sediment.

This results in acidified seas, dead fish and a dwindling capacity for the ocean – which helpfully sucks up a quarter of current emissions – to absorb CO2. Protecting just 4% of oceans would slash the carbon disturbed by 90%. The bottom line? To reach net zero, we need a sea change.