Netflix’s Seaspiracy ‘littered with misinformation’, says Malta tuna lobbyist

Netflix’s documentary Seaspiracy oversimplifies a very complex issue, uses out-of-context interviews and statistics, according to the CEO of the Federation of Maltese Aquaculture Producers

FMAP chief executive officer Charlon Gouder is a critic of Netflix's documentary Seaspiracy
FMAP chief executive officer Charlon Gouder is a critic of Netflix's documentary Seaspiracy

Charlon Gouder, the CEO of Malta’s tuna ranching lobby, the Federation of Maltese Aquaculture Producers, has slammed what he called the “negative portrayal of the aquaculture industry” in Netflix’s latest documentary ‘Seaspiracy’.  

The recently launched documentary delves into the damning effects of over-fishing on the world’s ecosystems.  In the documentary, Ali Tabrizi, the film’s director and narrator, travels around the world to document various legal and illegal fishing practices, introducing the notion of the ‘blood shrimp’ – seafood tainted by slave labour and human rights abuses in an industry driven by money. 

While viewers will surely find the documentary an eye-opener, critics like Gouder claim it oversimplifies a very complex issue, making use of out-of-context interviews and wrong statistics.  

Still, the 90-minute documentary has been trending world-wide, and is one of Netflix’s Top 10 most watched films since its premiere.  

“Viewers saw a picture of doom and gloom in life at sea. Whilst I condemn without reservation any act of slavery or human rights abuse, I cannot but forcefully reject the negative portrayal of the aquaculture industry, all designed to dissuade people from eating fish. Yes, I stand for genuine fishermen and defend sustainable aquaculture, which provides a healthy source of protein to billions of people,” Gouder, a lawyer, said in a commentary penned for MaltaToday, referring to aquaculture and fishing as an industry recognised by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United as part of the well-being of poor and disadvantaged communities. 

But he charged the producers of Seapiracy with having “failed miserably with their misinformation”.

“The Global Aquaculture Alliance said that this production was designed to turn viewers off animal proteins in favour of plant-based diets while the United States-based National Fisheries Institute said that legitimate documentaries must be distinguished from propaganda. The idea that the oceans will be empty by 2048 is nowhere supported by scientific papers whereas the alleged scoop that dolphins are killed in tuna fisheries is an absolute falsehood, at least for those Eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean Bluefin Tuna areas that serve Maltese farms,” he said.  

The 2048 deadline comes from a 2006 study which predicts that the world’s seas and oceans will be virtually empty in 42 years’ time. 

“I fail to understand several claims made that the oceans will be empty of fish, including Bluefin tuna, in 27 years’ time. This completely disregards the scientists at the Standing Committee on Research and Statistics (SCRS), under the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), who have acknowledged that the current status of the stock no longer appears to require emergency measures and, instead, say a management plan should be considered,” he said.  

Gouder even took issue with claims made by Tabrizi that observers aboard fishing vessels are maltreated by the fishers. “Our experience with the regional and national observers during the fishing season is positive, complementing our efforts to raise the bar of sustainability, accountability and traceability.” 

He said measures in place in the Eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean Bluefin Tuna areas, championed by the Maltese industry, contribute to a safely regulated fishing industry with the entire chain secured and recorded onto the electronic Bluefin Tuna Catch Document (e-BCD). “If this was not the case the European Commission would not have accepted Malta’s request for an increase of input of wild caught Bluefin tuna,” he said.  

Malta will see an increased input of 1,500 tons of Bluefin Tuna during this year’s season. The catching of the Bluefin Tuna in the Eastern Atlantic and the Mediterranean with purse seiner nets for the fattening farms is regulated by law and only permissible during the period of 26 May to 1 July. 

This increase will contribute an additional €25 million into the Maltese economy, on top of the €185 million generated during 2020. In 2019, the industry generated almost €170 million in exports. Malta’s current input capacity is of 12,300 tonnes.

“It is also welcome because it will happen at a time when other industries are striving to survive the impact of COVID–19. Aquaculture is flourishing with new prospects. It has proved its important role in a diversified economy built on different niches.”