REVIEW: ‘Seaspiracy’ and the dark truths behind the human impact on the ocean



Still from “Seaspiracy,” directed by Ali Tabriz.

In the same way that the revelations about SeaWorld’s captivation of killer whales in 2013’s “Blackfish” has weighed on my mind in the years since I first watched it, “Seaspiracy” has left an impact that is sure to extend far beyond the credits.

Directed by young documentary filmmaker Ali Tabrizi, “Seaspiracy” combines rare footage, past media coverage and interviews with experts, activists and more to paint what is likely the most comprehensive look at the many problems facing our oceans today. From whaling to overfishing to the use of slave labor to meet demands, the film does not shy away from the harsh and often brutal realities of the process that delivers seafood to the plates of consumers across the globe. 

Like in “Blackfish,” some of the footage is stomach-churning and can be hard to watch, especially considering the sheer numbers of animals involved. When you’re not just seeing packaged salmon at the grocery store but millions of diseased fish discarded back into the water as a natural hazard of the job, it makes witnessing these atrocities all the more essential. It’s a theme woven throughout the film: The lack of oversight and knowledge about the true realities of these fishing operations is what allows them to continue to act with almost complete impunity. 

By simply becoming aware of the deadly and harmful practices taking place in our oceans, Tabrizi’s film argues the public is taking one huge step forward in being able to make fully informed decisions when it comes to seafood consumption. Tabrizi himself was threatened multiple times to stop recording at various fisheries across Asia during the production of the documentary and was even tailed by law enforcement. 

Tabrizi offers what might be the first in-depth look into some of the most well-known ocean and wildlife advocacy groups and organizations and their connection to powerful forces in the fishing industry. In many of his interviews with so-called advocates, it becomes clear that their organization’s priorities do not align with the actual well-being of the ocean or the many now-endangered species of wildlife therein. 

During a particularly insightful interview with someone in charge of a group that declares some seafood “sustainably sourced,” Tabrizi learns that it’s practically impossible to monitor fishing activities to ensure proper fishing protocols. As a result, adding a label of sustainability on certain seafood has become nothing more than a marketing tool to entice consumers, not guidelines to identify safer fishing practices. 

Unlike some documentaries that offer a matter-of-fact perspective from the start, Tabrizi takes the audience with him as he travels around the world to learn the truth behind the human toll on the ocean. Because viewers are making these discoveries along with Tabrizi, feeling the shock and surprise along with him, the audience isn’t made to feel guilty for not knowing or for eating seafood in the past. Instead, “Seaspiracy” operates more as a collective learning opportunity, offering consumers more information than ever before to inform their decision-making when it comes to what to eat, who to support and what to care about regarding the ocean. 

While I left my initial viewing of “Blackfish” dejected and guilty for attending one of SeaWorld’s many parks when I was a child, I come away from “Seaspiracy” feeling more empowered knowing the many dark truths that so many companies and governments would prefer to remain hidden. While my past seafood consumption is surely something that can’t be ignored, I can move forward with a more comprehensive outlook on the ocean and the part that humans can play — whether that be hurting or helping it.