"SEASPIRACY" & Anti-intellectualism in the Modern Age

From the film director of Vegan and the creators of Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, on Wednesday March 24th Netflix released the highly controversial fiIm Seaspiracy which is now ranked #6 in the U.S. today. In its own words the film is intended to start a “movement to save our seas and uncover the leading cause of marine destruction” – commercial fisheries. Over the course of the one hour and twenty nine minute film, Lucy and Ali Tabrizi of the privately held and UK based Disrupt Design Studios Ltd lead us into the real and current problems in the fishing industry - modern slavery, overfishing, corruption, pollution and greenwashing. However, they go beyond exposing these problems and into a campaign of misinformation bent on insinuating a coordinated global conspiracy (that includes governments, regulators, non-profits, and environmental philanthropies) to rob the oceans of their biodiversity and environmental health. At the end of the disturbing 89 minutes we are led to a single conclusion: “to save the seas, stop eating fish.”
Anti-intellectualism has been defined as, "...a philosophic doctrine that assigns reason or intellect a subordinate place in the scheme of things and questions or denies the ability of the intellect to comprehend the true nature of things ... Anything that celebrates feeling over thought, intuition over logic, action over contemplation, results over means, experience over tradition and order tends toward anti-intellectualism." (Holman, C.Hugh (1985). A Handbook to Literature (Hardcover)(4th ed.) The key attributes of anti-intellectual thinking are distrust of intellectuals (as in Ali Tabrizi's distrust of Oceana, the Marine Stewardship Council, and Earth Island institute), polarizing viewpoints (like, veganism is the only diet that is good for the planet) and totalitarian means to insinuate thought control - like sensationalist "facts" and one sided interviews with cherry picked content that manipulate real conversations to provide an appearance of credibility. The key enablers of anti-intellectualism are an undereducated society (in a broad sense or limited to certain topics, like fisheries) and corporate mass media (like Netflix).
It has been stated that where Seaspiracy fails on truth, fairness, and intellectualism, it wins in initiating dialogues that could have meaningful outcomes for our oceans. In the context of the recently turbulent history in the West, I believe that how we start a constructive dialogue, and how we seek to “educate” the public, matters more than ever. We have all witnessed the corrosive and geopolitically destabilizing effects of extremism, fanaticism and “big tent conspiracy theories”. Irrationally held beliefs sometimes don’t stop in people’s minds and can lead to materially harmful outcomes to society (the attack on the US Capitol building, QAnon, the Anti Vax movement). How we initiate discussions and search for truth matters, and Seaspiracy/Netflix is a deeply irresponsible accounting of and search for truth, and realistic solutions to the problems in our oceans.
In the interest of total transparency and balanced viewpoints, it is important to note that I have spoken with or attempted to speak with both "sides". In engaging Director Kip Andersen to better understand his perspectives on fisheries and conservation, I was disappointed to hear him summarize his viewpoints to "fish are friends". An oversimplification by even the most rudimentary understanding of marine issues. I had a similar experience of Paul Watson, the Captain of Sea Shephard and a collaborator on this film, when we were both speakers at the EarthX conference when I attempted to privately engage him. My goal was to understand his perspective on food security for the roughly 3 billion people globally (many of whom are poor) that depend on seafood as their primary form of protein. Paul declined to discuss this and resorted to criticizing my diet and spearfishing. Such behavior exposes the dogmatism and culture of irresponsibility that comes with surrounding oneself in echo chambers of homogenous, and privileged white narratives.
Notwithstanding, when the documentary was announced, I was hopeful that journalistic instincts would take over and that a fair and accurate view of the issues would be portrayed over "our way or no way" tactics. What we have instead witnessed is divisive and toxic vegan propaganda that fails to consider any differing viewpoint. In the days since the release we are also quickly learning of twisted interviews, ambush tactics, comments taken out of context and key reliance on outdated and discredited "facts". A 2006 paper which predicted 'collapsed' stocks by 2048 (source) was refuted by dozens of follow up papers, and the original authors have recanted. The prediction is actually a minor point in the paper, it was the press release that accompanied its publication that focused on the inaccurate and apocalyptic sentiment. The easy-to-remember year has helped the story live on in the mainstream media.
To clear up any confusion: the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) estimates that 66% of fisheries are sustainable contributing 78.7% of consumed seafood. The 2048 projection which was published nearly 15 years ago, is not scientifically accepted and should stop being cited (source). For a reference on other problems with science, refer to the paper by Daniel Pauly, a pre-eminent Marine Biologist and critic of industrial fisheries who believes the film does more harm than good (source)
On the other "side" I have spoken to or collaborated with a variety of non-profits and non Governmental organizations like OceanWise, FishWise, Seafood Watch and the Marine Stewardship Council. I approached these organizations as a stranger and found them to have open door policies and a willingness to answer the difficult questions while also inviting me directly into the regions of the world that are most productive providers of seafood (link) which have been inaccurately portrayed in Seaspiracy.
Unfortunately, there is little that we can do to slow down this harmful media, but there is plenty that we can do to help educate and bring light to a balanced narrative. Through a series of blogs and video content in collaboration with Pescavore Seafood, my hope is to do just that working collaboratively within the environmental community to address the marine conservation issues that were brought forward in the film and what role and responsibilities consumers have in ensuring ocean health. I am also focused on the messengers of the call to action “don’t eat fish” shining a bright light on who financed this production and who might benefit or be harmed by this overly simplified “solution”.

What’s on the line? 

  • Humans, who are part of the planetary network, and who rely on seafood for critical nutrients at every stage of life.

  • Three billion people in the world (many of whom are poor) who depend on fish as their primary source of nutrient dense protein.

  • Access to healthy food for every one of the 9.1 billion humans that are projected to live in the world in the year 2050 (a 34% higher population than today)

  • Our ability to increase the volume of marine resourced sustainable seafood to help bridge the 70 percent more food that will be needed for this future population (source).

  • Security of jobs for the roughly 260 million marine fisheries jobs worldwide (source).

 Diagram of world food security index
It is my belief that a sustainable ocean economy, where protection, production and prosperity go hand in hand can create a healthy ocean and healthy communities that can effectively respond to these global challenges. Despite Seaspiracy’s assertions, there are “industrial” methods of fishing that have little ecosystem impacts and sustainably supply much of the needed demand. We have seen meaningful gains in the supply of sustainable over conventional seafood in relatively short periods of time. This work has been accomplished through collaborative efforts between activists, non-profits, industry, regulators, philanthropists, and intergovernmental cooperation. It is true that we have some distance to go. However, Seaspiracy gives no credit to the work that has been done and the real potential for even better outcomes moving forward. Afterall, it is so much easier to invent conspiracies, holler into echo chambers and finance one sided sensationalist media and call it a “documentary” than to actually get down to the business of the hard work associated with improving our oceans. Such work involves balancing ecological and human needs.
In closing, “Don’t eat fish” is an oversimplification predicated on ignorance, naivete and/or a willful attempt to mislead with potentially perverse incentives. To move forward responsible education, we are looking forward to bringing you the next installment: Is there such a thing as sustainable seafood?

Valentine Thomas is a trained lawyer, environmental activist, entrepreneur, speaker, author, spearfisher, chef, sustainable seafood advocate and Forbes Changemaker.

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30x30 in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction ("the High Seas")

There has recently been a healthy debate around 30x30, or the aim to protect 30% of the earth by 2030. 

In the last blog installment, I summarized how California and the US are applying marine protected areas (MPAs) and other fisheries management tools so effectively that 99 percent of American wild-caught seafood, by volume, is sustainable - not overfished or undergoing overfishing. But what about other areas, particularly the high seas?
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea established a sovereign boundary out 200 miles into the ocean from the coastline of countries. Countries have full control of marine resources within that exclusive economic zone (EEZ), but beyond that 200 mile boundary are areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ), also known as and hereafter referred to as "the high seas". The high seas are home to highly migratory species (HMS) with some being important to fishermen and global food security like tuna, and others being iconic and key to biodiversity - charismatic megafauna like whale sharks (Rhincodon typus). These animals travel great distances throughout their lives moving in and out of EEZs and the high seas. If one country does a great job of managing HMS, but the neighboring country does not, then those species can be subject to overfishing. This makes multi-national agreement on fisheries management critical for HMS.
We have multi-national forums designed to manage HMS on the high seas called regional fisheries management organizations or RFMOs (we're starting to get into an alphabet soup, but these are all key acronyms when talking about effective management of MPAs). RFMOs are in place for much of our oceans, cover nearly all commercially relevant fish species, and are an alphabet soup in their own right. For tropical and subtropical zones with an emphasis on tuna species like skipjack, yellowfin, bigeye, albacore and bluefin, we have the WCPFC (Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission) and IATTC (Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission) in the Pacific, ICCAT (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas) in the Atlantic, IOTC (Indian Ocean Tuna Commission) in the Indian Ocean, and CCSBT (Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna ) in the Southern Ocean. For temperate and polar species we have SPRFMO (South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization) and CCAMLAR (Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources) in the south and NAFO (Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization) and CCBSP (Convention on the Conservation and Management of Pollock Resources in the Central Bering Sea) in the north, among others. 
Tropical and subtropical tuna (source):
Temperate and polar regions (source):
The members of the RFMOs consist of the bordering states and other countries involved in fishing those areas, also known as distant water fleets. Distant water fleets are dominated by China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, the EU/Spain, and Indonesia who account for 77% of high seas catch with longline and purse seine for tuna, jigging squid, and trawling for deep bottom fish being most common.  Representatives from coastal and distant water fleet countries sit around the table at the RFMOs to negotiate and agree to conservation measures that apply to all members and are designed to manage fish stocks at sustainable levels. Things don't always go to plan but we have recently witnessed the power of these bodies to find consensus and enact protocols for enforcement. For instance, an early December failure of the IATTC to agree on 2021 conservation measures led to diplomatic intervention and an extraordinary session later in the month enacted the necessary conservation measures. Minutes and reports of these meetings are available online and subject to oversight by the general public, advocacy groups and industry.  
The US or any other country making a 30x30 proclamation for the high seas is meaningless without agreement from our brothers and sisters who share these waters. Multi-national agreement is tough, and enforcement of agreed conservation measures on the high seas even more so. This makes RFMOs imperfect, but they are the institutional tools we have to work with, are improving over time, and the right venue for any discussion regarding high seas MPAs. It is also important to note that MPAs on the high seas have to be enormous by design to have any quantifiable benefit for HMS species like tuna, making other management tools like time/area closures, catch limits, and capacity limits more realistic. We have these in various forms and stages in each of the RFMOs. Again, not perfect but building blocks we are trying to strengthen. 
 In summary, in the context of enacting legislation, executive orders, petitions, or social activism as it applies to the high seas, lets recognize what we already have and build on that while also looking to the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as a guide for any new legislative, non-governmental, and industry initiatives. 

Pescavore CEO and Co-Founder Matthew Owens started his career in sustainable seafood as a rural aquaculture extension agent in the Peace Corps Zambia; he now leads the industry in promoting responsible tuna fisheries management including in roles appointed by the Secretary of Commerce as an advisor to NOAA for the Inter American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).

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Is Aiming To Protect 30% of the Earth by 2030 A Good Idea?

Seems like it, but the devil would be in the details. The problem is there are very few details in many of these proclamations including the recent Executive Order by US President, Joe Biden. 
Protected areas can come in different forms. Some you can recreationally hunt and fish in, some you can’t; some allow commercial access (e.g. logging, oil and gas, fishing), some don’t. 
The goal with protected areas is to strike a good balance between human interests, like the wellbeing of coastal communities, and conserving nature - which also provides us longer term benefits. Sustainable fisheries play an important role in the nation’s economy. Combined, U.S. commercial and recreational saltwater fishing generated more than $244 billion in sales and supported more than 1.7 million jobs in 2017. However, the economic viability of the fisheries sector is now in great peril due to the effects of the novel coronavirus which destroyed demand for seafood across a complicated U.S. supply chain, from luxury items such as lobster and crab, generally consumed at restaurants, to grocery staples sourced from the world’s fish farms. With restaurants closed, many of the nation’s fisheries — across geography, species, gear types and management — have reported sales slumps as high as 95 percent (source). Federal CARES relief has been slow, and inadequate. Additional closures and regulation is likely to place untimely pressure on the sector.
So what does a good human, economic, and fisheries balance look like? A lot of that depends on baseline conditions and geography, or in our case oceanography. Right now about 13% of the world’s oceans are protected in some way and 26% of US waters are covered by marine protected areas (MPAs). It is also important to recognize that MPAs are just one way to manage marine resources. Catch limits including size and species, capacity limits like capping the number of fishing vessels or licenses, and time/area closures are tools used to conserve fish stocks and protect ocean ecosystems. These are applied so effectively by the US government under the Magnuson-Stevens Act that NOAA Fisheries most recent Annual Status of Stocks presentation to Congress summarized 7% of stocks are subject to overfishing and 19% are overfished (population is low) with all of the largest U.S. stocks reported sustainable: by weight, roughly 99% of American wild-caught seafood is sustainable (source).
Diagram showing stats for overfishing
Some research does show that MPAs can be effective at rebuilding overfished species in near-shore environments and in some deeper water benthic (sea floor) habitats. That is part of the reason why California established its Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA), resulting in 124 MPA covering 16% of the State’s coastal waters. The Magnuson-Stevens Act overlaps with the MLPA creating one of the best marine resource management systems in the world; thus Federal and State waters in the US and California are already very well managed. There is room for incremental improvement with good science, careful planning, and multi-stakeholder involvement but not huge increases in MPAs. International waters, or the high seas beyond 200 miles from shore that are under national jurisdictions is a whole other can of worms. Please subscribe to the newsletter here and stay tuned as we dive into relevant areas for consideration on the high seas. 
Pescavore CEO and Co-Founder Matthew Owens started his career in sustainable seafood as a rural aquaculture extension agent in the Peace Corps Zambia; he now leads the industry in promoting responsible tuna fisheries management including in roles appointed by the Secretary of Commerce as an advisor to NOAA for the Inter American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC).
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Celebrate & Support California Fisheries

Celebrating World Oceans Day

There are 840 miles of coastline in California with waters rich in healthy, sustainable seafood. Due in part to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, a science-based framework for management, US fisheries are generally abundant and well managed.

Woman holding tuna
Heidi Rhodes of H&H Fresh Fish


This World Oceans Day, Pescavore Seafood hopes to help bring attention to the availability and diversity of seafood harvested in California’s bountiful waters through the lens of our local fishermen, fisherwomen and producers. We encourage you to join us on this visual journey and commit to taking direct action to ensure a future of healthy oceans, while preserving the heritage and vitality of our working waterfronts.


Fire in a boat harbor


The San Francisco Crab Boat Fisherman’s Association

In the early morning hours of May 23rd a 4 alarm fire rang out at San Francisco’s historic Pier 45 destroying millions of dollars in commercial fishing gear. The majority of these losses have not and may not be covered by insurance. Learn more from KQED.org. Longtime crabber and fisherman Nick Krieger watched his dreams and more than $100,000 of his equipment purchased over the last 12 years burn in the inferno. This film is Nick in his own words.

Prior to this disaster, the Washington Post accurately predicted that many US fisherman would not survive the coronavirus economy. In the words of San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who represents Fisherman’s Wharf , “[the] business of crabbing is an inextricable part of what San Francisco is. It’s part of our reputation and our economy.”

At the time this newsletter was written, the San Francisco Crab Boat Owners Association collected less than 10% of the goal to raise $1MM for disaster relief.


Pescavore tuna snacks in a lunch cooler

H&H Fresh Fish of Santa Cruz, California

For 17 years, this family owned business has served the Santa Cruz and greater Bay Area Communities by bringing healthy, local seafood from dock to table.


Collage of tuna being prepared and made into a meal
Hans Haveman of H&H Fresh Fish


Learn more in this heartfelt story of living simply with gratitude and in harmony with the ocean and the community:



Aerial view of a lot of boats docked in a harbor


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Surfer holding a surfboard on a cliff overlooking the ocean
Pescavore Big Wave Surfing Ambassador Wilem Banks

Pescavore Seafood of Santa Cruz, California

Healthy Oceans Seafood Company, the owner of the brand Pescavore, provides premium, sustainably harvested and resource-smart wild seafood products. A first of its kind innovation, these smoked ahi tuna and sockeye salmon strips are a 1.5 oz single serve, shelf stable, whole muscle cut portion. Every nutritious strip contains 14-15 grams of real food protein, and heart and brain healthy omega-3s. The company’s mission is to produce seafood products that consumers can trust while helping hard-working American fishermen, and coastal communities thrive.

Co-founder, Matthew Owens, started his career in sustainable seafood as a rural aquaculture extension agent with Peace Corps, Zambia. He now leads the industry in promoting responsible tuna fisheries management and social protections. Hear Matt’s story about how Pescavore came to be:



A boat leaving the harbor


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The Global Agricultural Productivity Gap, what is it?

In short, the global agricultural productivity gap is a current index of how much food is globally produced today compared to how much will be required to feed all the world’s people in 2050, a little over 30 years from now.
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