Randi Kreiss

Caught in the tangled lines of big fishing


I watched the Netflix documentary “Seaspiracy” last week, and I may never eat fish again.

The 90-minute exposé on commercial fishing, produced by Ali Tabrizi, a 27-year-old environmentalist and filmmaker, reveals a fishing mega-industry that is poisoning our oceans, overfishing across the globe, unintentionally slaughtering thousands of dolphins and turtles in miles-long fishing nets (known as walls of death) and peddling farmed fish that is contaminated to unsuspecting consumers. The documentary presents disturbing video evidence of practices like the mass killing of dolphins and whales in Japan, where some fishermen see the mammals as competition for their industry.

Tabrizi interviews fishermen as well as leaders of various organizations devoted to the preservation of sea life and healthy oceans. He draws viewers to the conclusion that there is no such thing as “sustainable” fish catches, and no such thing as “dolphin safe tuna,” despite the labels and the claims of the fishing industry. He interviews men who say they were kept as slaves on huge fishing vessels, processing shrimp in their holds, with the threat of being thrown overboard if they protested. The documentary shows thousands of miles of fishing lines and nets stuck together in vast seas of garbage floating across the Pacific Ocean.

My own history with fishing and eating fish is at odds with the disturbing elements of the exposé. Having lived most of my life on the coast of Long Island, I fished Reynolds Channel, in Atlantic Beach and Long Beach, from the time I was 4. As a kid, I went out with my dad and my Uncle Herbie in a wooden rowboat with an outboard motor, and I always landed the biggest flounder.

“Big as a doormat,” my dad would say. And I usually caught it on a simple dropline. Part of the fun was the other stuff we caught and threw back, the blowfish and spider crabs and the occasional eel. The bays were full and rich with wildlife. My dad cleaned the fish at the dock, and we ate what we caught. Who thought about it?

Decades later, wanderlust led my own family to summers in Montana. There we learned to fly fish, and we ambled along the big rivers: the Bitterroot, the Gallatin, the Blackfoot, the Yellowstone and the Ruby. Summer after summer we caught and released rainbow and brown trout lurking in the deep, still pools of those pristine rivers.

This morning, I read in The New York Times: “Montana’s Famed Trout Under Threat as Drought Intensifies.” Which leads to questions about what is precipitating the devastating heat and drought across the West, and how overfishing, air pollution, industrial waste and food production contribute to the climate change that is affecting life on Earth?

I’m worried that my favorite salmon recipes, made with farm-raised salmon, may include a few surprise ingredients like arsenic, PCBs, DDT and mercury. When I open a can of tuna, “Seaspiracy” claims, even the “Dolphin Safe” label can be unreliable.

The Guardian newspaper challenges some of “Seaspiracy’s” claims, saying that several fishing industry leaders were quoted “out of context.” The newspaper reports that there are viable groups working hard to create “sustainable’ sources of fish. It challenges the “Seaspiracy” claim that our oceans could be completely empty by 2048, saying that finding may be dated.

I checked out the websites of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and learned that there are hundreds of endangered fish on their lists, fish dying out because of overfishing or disappearing habitats. Among them is the Atlantic salmon. So, as a salmon eater, my choice is wild-caught Pacific salmon or farm-raised salmon, which seems to have issues not only with contaminants but with the farms themselves, which release huge amounts of waste into the oceans. And if someone claims a farmed fish source to be environmentally conscientious and the fish safe to eat, how to know for sure?

Please watch “Seaspiracy” for yourself. Read the rebuttals to the documentary on the BBC and Guardian websites. The questions for all of us are, how do we eat healthy and still preserve the natural resources of our planet? How do we create reliable oversight groups so that we can believe their reports of sustainable fish sources and healthy fishing protocols? Right now, the fishing industry is largely self-reporting, and that raises issues.

As citizens of the Earth, our menu choices are fraught. Suddenly, a simple tuna sandwich creates an ethical dilemma. 

Copyright 2021 Randi Kreiss. Randi can be reached at randik3@aol.com.