• Reading Level 5
Science | Geography | Citizenship | PSHE

‘Cherry-picking facts and selective quotation’

Is Seaspiracy right about fishing? A shocking new Netflix documentary about the horrors of the fishing industry is causing controversy – and kicking up a new debate over facts. Dolphins tangled in fishing nets. Dead fish tossed, unused, back into the sea. Beached whales with ropes and netting clogging up their stomachs. These are just some of the harrowing images featured in the new Netflix documentary Seaspiracy. The documentary, directed by British film-maker Ali Tabrizi, paints a grim picture of the world’s oceans. It warns that we are catching fish much faster than they can be replenished – and that endangered marine life is falling victim to unethical industrial fishing practices. It also draws attention to the human rights abuses that plague the fishing industry, coining the phrase “blood shrimp” to describe the harm caused to human beings by the world’s appetite for fish. At its conclusion, it claims that to save the oceans, human beings need to stop eating fish entirely. But over the weekend, the film received a wave of criticism. Experts complained that it is riddled with inaccuracies and criticised its call for people to stop eating fish altogether. Critics of the film have focused especially on its claim that the oceans will be “virtually empty” by 2048 if we continue fishing at our current rate. This claim is based on a study from 2006, using data that most experts think is out of date. Others have pointed out that many of the world’s poorest communities are reliant on fish for their diet. They claim that calling for everyone to stop eating fish is unhelpful and Eurocentric. But some think this is mere nitpicking. They argue that even if some of the details in Seaspiracy are inaccurate, its overarching point is still true: the oceans are being overfished. And for some, it points to a broader problem with fact-checking in journalism. After Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election, many people worried that the world had entered a post-truth era, in which politicians deliberately blur the line between truth and falsehood. Newspapers responded by setting up their own fact-checking services. Their aim was to restore the distinction between truth and lie, and ensure that voters would not be taken in by lies spread by politicians and media. Originally, these fact-checking services focused on simple, factual claims that could only be true or false. But increasingly, fact-checkers began to apply their methods to politicians’ opinions as well. Instead of just verifying that the claims they make are true, they insist that people’s ideas and views are also intrinsically true or false. This, some argue, is what has happened to Seaspiracy. They think the documentary’s critics have an ulterior motive: by fact-checking its minor details, they can distract people from its overarching argument that the fishing industry needs to be reined in. Is the Netflix documentary Seaspiracy right about fishing? Fishing expedition? Yes, say some. Even if some of its specific claims are based on inaccurate or outdated information, the thrust of its argument – that fishing stocks are being depleted much too fast – is both true and important. Many of those claiming that it is wrong are companies and organisations that are themselves responsible for overfishing, because they want to avoid accountability. Not at all, say others. The documentary is too simplistic in its analysis and its recommendations. While the fishing industry does cause human rights abuses and environmental problems, these can be solved by regulation: it is not necessary for everyone to stop eating fish, and it is wrong to tell people who rely on fish in their diet and livelihoods that they must no longer catch or eat it. KeywordsEndangered - An animal or plant that is in danger of becoming extinct – or dying out completely.

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