Seaspiracy | Ali Tabrizi

The title in itself is provocative enough… Of course, we can hear the word “piracy”, a problem mentioned in Seaspiracy, but we also (and mainly) hear “spiracy”. Is a conspiracy being hatched when it comes to the sea? That’s what the British filmmaker Ali Tabrizi hints at in his not uninteresting, yet at times questionable documentary released in April 2021 on Netflix.

Seaspiracy, Ali Trabizi, Neflix, 2021
Source : IMDb

It follows Tabrizi (accompanied by his partner who remains in the background) in his endeavour to better understand the impact of human activities on marine life, especially focusing on the fishing industry. It explains why there would be no such thing as a “sustainable” fishing through various examples, from Taiji’s dolphin hunts to Scottish salmon farms by way of illegal trawling off the coast of Liberia. The filmmaker also met men who used to work as slaves for the seafood industry as well as various activists, specialists, politicians and representatives of different organisations.

Journalism or sensationalism?

Seaspiracy, first of all, lacks the journalistic professionalism I would have expected on such an important topic. I sometimes wondered whether I was watching a documentary or a thriller. Suspenseful music, dramatic editing, overplayed reactions and exaggerated statements all undermine the documentary’s credibility.

Although we don’t know how much time Tabrizi spent in Taiji, he dedicates five minutes of his film to his experience in this Japanese town and eight to his stay in Japan overall before affirming “Since we had discovered all we could about dolphin hunting in Taiji, we decided to follow the shark story […].” “All we discovered” (I am the one who put it in bold) seems a bit categorical to me, even though, of course, I don’t know the extent of their research…

Anyway, Seaspiracy relies heavily on sensationalism to convey its core message: you should stop eating seafood. According to Trabazi, citizens couldn’t trust organisations such as the Marine Stewardship Council or Oceana, showing embarrassing interviews of people refusing to answer questions or unable to do so. These upsetting clips demonstrate the contradictions and lack of clarity in these organisations, but these interviews have also been criticised… For example, Mark Palmer from the International Marine Mammal Project of the Earth Island Institute, which manages the Dolphin Safe tuna label, claimed “his comments were taken out of context”, an allegation that Tabrizi then denied. (McVeigh, 2021) One word against another, and hard to untangle the truth…

Knowing how big a role editing plays in the way a message is delivered and understood when it comes to documentaries, it is legitimate to wonder how they chose the footage that appear in Seaspiracy. Is it really surprising that “a representative from Thai seafood” met at an industry seafood expo would deny the use of slave labour to catch Thai shrimp and prawns, “bluewashing the truth”? Was a dramatic close-up on blood-stained hands necessary to show the cruelty of whaling?

The power of storytelling

As stated in the Guardian, however:

“[…] Prof Callum Roberts, a marine conservationist at the University of Exeter, also quoted in Seaspiracy, but has not yet seen it, disagreed with its critics. He said: ‘It’s not been made for its scientific rigour. It has used the techniques of film storytelling to make its case. […]’”

McVeigh, 2021

And Seaspiracy is indeed successful in that regard. It makes it hard not to question our own eating and consumption habits when we realise how damaging they are to the environment. Specialists help viewers better understand the importance of the problem, the large-scale impact humans have on oceans. The wave of shocking figures that hits us can’t leave cold, although some of these numbers have also been disputed.

“What Netflix’s Seaspiracy gets wrong about fishing, explained by a marine biologist”, is the title of an article by Daniel Pauly, “marine biologist, fisheries scientist, […] professor at the University of British Columbia and a member of the board of directors of Oceana”, published by Vox in April 2021. An interesting read to put things and figures into perspective, and help take a step back after watching this documentary.

The problem with figures is that one can use and interpret them as one likes, in one way or another – keeping in mind that misleading doesn’t necessarily mean lying… Consequently, it is always interesting to cross-reference facts and listen to different points of view. On the topic of marine pollution for example, Géraldine Le Roux wrote the very interesting Sea Sisters, only available in French at the moment, which explores the issue of plastic pollution from the perspective of an all-female crew that embarked for a leg of a round-the-world voyage organised by eXXpedition.

The poor state of our oceans, the human misery it causes and the dangers looming on biodiversity do exist, nonetheless, and we can hope that Seaspiracy‘s success on Netflix in terms of viewing numbers will help raise awareness of these issues. This documentary might be a good jumping-off point to start doing more research on the topic and call our way of life and practices into question, without taking everything at face value.

On the necessity of taking some critical distance

Unfortunately, I also found Seaspiracy very problem- and human-focused. The importance of animal welfare, the value of animal lives, their sensations and emotions are only quickly broached at the end of the documentary, as well as some potential solutions. Everything is wrapped up in quite an unsatisfying way, offering three main means of action under the simplistic headline “How to save the ocean”, not really exploring creative solutions that certainly do exist.

On top of this, Daniel Pauly underlines the problematic worldview provided by the documentary, which he argues mainly presents Westerners as heroes and Asians as villains when it comes to the oceans. According to Pauly:

“Ultimately, this is a movie that forces the problems of global fisheries through a small, privileged lens to make the Europeans and North Americans who can give up fish feel guilty enough to do so.”

Pauly, 2021

Scottish salmon farmers and Faroese whalers are not spared, though, but I do understand Pauly. Many non-Westerners surely fight to protect the oceans and could have shared their hands-on knowledge and experience, while many of the ocean defenders featured in Seaspiracy are indeed activists and scholars who come from Western countries.

However, this documentary is not completely uninteresting despite its numerous problematic elements. It is digestible and accessible (maybe too much, at the risk of oversimplifying) and might serve as a wake-up call for some people, just like Cowspiracy contributed to many people’s interest in veganism. The latter was in fact directed by Kip Andersen, who produced Seaspiracy… I’m not sure I will watch this movie on the environmental consequences of animal agriculture given my opinion on Seaspiracy, though…

About the documentary

Director: Ali Tabrizi
Running time: 89 minutes
Release date: 24 March 2021


McVeigh, K. (2021) Seaspiracy: Netflix documentary accused of misrepresentation by participants. The Guardian [online], 31 March. Available from: [Accessed 19 February 2022].

Pauly, D. (2021) What Netflix’s Seaspiracy gets wrong about fishing, explained by a marine biologist. Vox [online], 13 April. Available from: [Accessed 19 February 2022].

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