On Friday the 19th, I was invited to participate in a short Q&A session directly following the release of The End of the Line, a new documentary about the state of our oceans, at a movie theater in the East Village.
Even though Greenpeace has been engaging in rigorous cross-promotional efforts with the producers of this film, including campaigning against Nobu restaurant and taking to the water to expose the repugnant activities of bluefin tuna pirates, this was the first time I actually saw the movie in its entirety… and I’m now more convinced than ever that it merits our unconditional support.
The End of the Line is a masterful work that details one man’s crusade to save our world’s oceans. The author and subject of the documentary, Charles Clover, found his love of the ocean as many of us do: at the end of a line.
While fishing in Wales, Clover snagged a very lonely salmon – a salmon that turned out to be the last one ever caught in that river. Overfishing, rampant development, pollution, and habitat loss have combined forces to annihilate a population that once made annual pilgrimages to the Welsh highlands.
After witnessing the melancholy fade-out of this salmon run, Clover began to ask that simple question that so many of us are struggling so mightily to ignore: Why are our fish disappearing? His quest to find an answer became an odyssey that took him from Senegal to Tokyo and a thousand points in between.
The movie is replete with dazzling imagery; shots of Almadraba, a traditional bluefin tuna hunt undertaken by Spanish fishermen in the Strait of Gibraltar capture the true vitality and power of this regal animal. During the sequence, I overheard a woman in front of me convey her astonishment over the bluefin’s massive size to her companion in hushed expletives.
The irony is that the bluefin pictured in The End of the Line aren’t large at all… maybe 150 pounds. Just a short decade or two ago, there still were bluefin swimming about that had reached sizes closer to their true potential – upwards of 600 pounds. That’s three or four times larger than the “massive” fish in the movie.
Our baselines have shifted. Aside from the wrinkled old seadogs that haunt the docks of towns like Gloucester, MA, no one remembers a truly gargantuan bluefin. No one remembers that there used to be alligators in Chesapeake Bay. No one remembers the true nature of a healthy ocean.
A number of aging fishermen appear throughout the film, underscoring this issue by weaving an old salts’s lament into the story. With their greybeard perspective and sun-stroked skin, these old men of the sea decry the waste and rapacity of the modern fishing industry, citing our rampant overfishing as a glaring example of today’s generation cutting its own throat in search of a quick dollar.
Near the conclusion of the film, an unnamed woman sums up the problem when she smiles into the camera and candidly delivers the line, “I like to eat fish. To me, fish are food.”
Those who have read some of my previous articles and blog entries on this subject know that I do not necessarily dispute this statement. I don’t have a problem with the concept of a human being feeding on a fish. The problem arises with the strange assumption that once an animal is relegated to the status of “food,” it no longer merits any kind of respectful treatment. It does not deserve to be treated as a living thing; rather, it exists for the lone purpose of one day graduating to the status of fish finger, salmon burger, or 2-piece nigiri plate.
Speaking to this issue (albeit somewhat indirectly) is Dr. Daniel Pauly, a UBC professor who is prominently featured throughout the movie. Pauly is one of the most well-known fisheries scientists in the world. He speaks at conferences and symposia in cities across the globe. The particularities of his theories are often disputed within academia, but no one would deny the man’s brilliance and devotion to the planet.
At one point during the film, Pauly offers a frighteningly simple answer to Clover’s overarching question about the fate of the world’s fish. When Clover asks, “Where are the fish going?, Pauly responds, “We are eating them!”
Fish may be food to some, but that does not mean that they are not still fish first and foremost, living organisms with which humans have a delicate and complex relationship. This relationship is being abused to a terrifying extreme. Factory trawlers, dynamite fishers, bluefin tuna pirates, absurdly greedy corporations (et tu, Mitsubishi?) and corrupt politicians have stretched the ability of our oceans to nurture healthy fish populations to the breaking point.
I beseech all those who read this message to make a point of seeing The End of the Line as soon as possible. It depicts the reality of the state of our oceans better than this blog ever could.