FISHING INDUSTRY / The United States imports 91 percent of all food fish from the other side of the globe, and fish intake is limited to five varieties while ancient coastal communities are in ruins. In Cambodia, the seabed is being emptied and emptied of illegal fishing from Vietnam. The theme is gloomy, but two different documentaries find bright spots.


Fish & Men – The High Cost of Cheap Fish
Directors Darby Duffin, Adam Jones, USA

Current Sea
Director Christopher Smith, USA, Malaysia

documentary Fish & Men early on has a telling interview with a broke fisherman who says that getting food from the sea was an honorable and noble profession until recently. Now he and other fishermen with small fishing boats are in an impossible competition against huge multinational fishing trawlers. One of America's oldest port cities, picturesque Gloucester in Massachusetts, has been hit hard by the fishing crisis.

There are fish in the sea, but not the few food fish that consumers prefer to eat. The film illuminates many reasons for the misery that has befallen the fishermen. Consumers' expectation of cheap dinner food is often a popular explanation from the industry, but is not the only reason. The consequence of the fishing industry's reckless pursuit of profit is an ocean empty of food fish and local communities without sustainability.

The film is simple and unpretentious in its idiom. The pictures are telling. Almost otherworldly sizes are presented by predatory catch that bends and twists in monolithic net sausages on huge fishing trawler decks. I am fascinated by the previously unimaginable scale of fish caught. Tons and tons of sparkling silver-shimmering fish in a fight to the death are put in context with what ends up on the individual's everyday plate. The industry's capacity to turn endless amounts of writhing, living life into frozen blocks of flesh is unsettling, straight out of a science-fiction movie. Of course, we already know this, and that the catch ends up where the hourly price for work is the lowest.

The fish is sprayed full of additives.

The film grabs hold of me, makes me angry when it goes into detail about so-called fish processing: The fish is sprayed full of all kinds of additives, much to increase volume and thus weight, which brings more money into the coffers. The shocking thing is not this, but that only two percent of American fish imports are checked, and that very few American consumers are aware that toxins are injected or other health-hazardous processes are exposed to the seafood. Environmental toxins that the fish ingest before they are caught are then kept out.

Old fish will be as new

The film highlights how fish gutted and processed – mainly in Asia – are outside regulated territory and thus freely available for dangerous and toxic processes. Particularly thought-provoking are the different treatments of fresh fish that hide age. Tuna and other types of fish are processed so that the fresh color of the fish meat is retained even when the fish is anything but fresh. Where before the color of the fish could tell us consumers something about the expiry date, it is now only the smell that reveals bad fish.

Fish & Men
Small needles inject salt water and various substances into the fish fillets.

Directors Darby Duffin and Adam Jones don't stop there. They show the environmental and social consequences and use Gloucester as an example and metaphor for something more: unemployment, abandoned factories, dilapidated homes and idle fishing boats. America's oldest active seaport now has poor odds. Fish & Men is characterized by its infectious commitment to the American fishing community. The personal gallery is wide and lush.

The film is able to get close to many who now not only have their existence threatened, but also their entire way of life. The fishermen have had their income reduced to ten percent.
As in Norway, attempts have been made to save the fish population with the help of fishing quotas. In the United States, this policy has not helped, but rather led to personal ruin. It is with empathy and insight that the film conveys how the sale of quotas has been a game for the gallery: High-priced fishing quotas did not give access to the sea's bread, but created debts that no amount of work will ever be able to repay.

In the USA, among other things, 90 per cent of all prawns are imported from China.

Fish sticks and prawns

Single destinies seize me; like the fishing boat owner who sells both fishing boats and moves to a more affordable home to become debt free. The human element drives the documentary forward. The fishermen and the industry are getting help from celebrities: Celebrity chefs are sounding the alarm about how the Americans' narrow taste palette in seafood is ruining the ability to look after the traditional fishing boats. The menu must be expanded to "something more than fish sticks and prawns". Catching and using "unknown" types of fish can be the salvation for fishermen and give consumers access to local fresh seafood.
Here, the film is felt to be more free and less emotional. The message is clear: Delicious traditional seafood in the fish counter is no longer what most people think. In the USA, among other things, 90 per cent of all prawns are imported from China.

The documentary addresses how well the fishing industry is protected in Norway without mentioning any of the many revelations about unhealthy conditions in our controversial fish farming or other challenges. The film is not perfect, but very similar. It is part of the Klimafestivalen at the BIFF film festival, which this year offers streaming of films on
The climate section is celebrating its tenth anniversary and offers a great variety within climate and environmental issues thematically and in terms of form. As a festival participant, you can therefore choose whether you would rather see another documentary that sheds light on a similar theme: The price local fishing communities in the West must pay for affordable seafood in the shops is also told with exotic Cambodia as the scene. Here, even the smallest of life in the sea is threatened, right down to the microscopic seahorse.

Dangerous fight against illegal fishing

Film Current Sea by Christopher Smith is an action-packed and occasionally thriller-like documentary full of vitality that unfolds in colorful Asian waters.
The destruction of marine life was a wake-up call for British diver and activist Paul Ferber, who starts the MCC – Marine Conservation Cambodia. The grassroots methods that are used with the casting of concrete traps are liberating straight forward. Scaring away illegal fishermen by seeking them out is another.

Wanting to protect life in the sea can be life-threatening.

The film sheds light on predatory fishing methods with both electric trawls that kill, or pair trawls that clean and sanitize mile after mile of sea, but at the same time shows how such methods can be stopped with available means. But the film devotes several exciting sequences to the father by challenging a very lucrative and illegal industry. Wanting to protect life in the sea can be life-threatening. Being a journalist on environmental issues in Cambodia as well. The Australian reporter Matt Blomberg is central to the film.


The gaze in both Fish & Men og Current Sea is based mostly on white men's point of view. A much-needed different perspective comes towards the end of the film in the form of two young local students who tell more about the cost of environmental commitment, and how vulnerable this work is. That one of these, Rahana Thap, eventually takes over Paul's central role in the MCC balances things out in that respect.

Both movies can is streamed on BIFF+ 13.–31. October 2020.

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