Fish & Men – The High Cost of Cheap Fish
Directors Darby Duffin, Adam Jones, USA
Director Christopher Smith, USA, Malaysia
documentary Fish & Men has an early talking 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 sheds light on many reasons for the misery that has befallen fishermen. Consumers' expectation of cheap dinner 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 design language. The pictures are telling. Almost extraterrestrial sizes are presented by predatory prey that meanders and twists in monolithic net sausages on huge fishing trawler decks. I am fascinated by the previously unknown extent of caught fish. Tons upon tons of bouncing silver shimmering fish in a death struggle are put in context with what ends up on the individual everyday plate. The industry's capacity to transform endless amounts of meandering, living life into frozen blocks of meat is unsettling, as taken from a science fiction movie. Of course, we know this from before, and that the catch ends up where the hourly rate for work is lowest.
The fish is sprayed full of additives.
The film grabs me, makes me annoyed when it goes into detail on so-called fish processing: The fish is sprayed full of all kinds of additives, a lot to increase volume and thus weight, which gives more money in the box. This is not shocking, but that only two percent of American fish imports are controlled, and that very few American consumers are aware that toxins are injected or other hazardous processes to which seafood is exposed. Then environmental toxins that the fish ingest before it is caught are kept out.
Old fish will be like new
The film highlights how fish that are gutted and processed – mainly in Asia – are outside regulated territory and thus freely accessible to dangerous and toxic processes. Particularly thought-provoking are various treatments of fresh fish that hide aging. Tuna and other fish species are treated so that the fresh color of the fish meat is maintained even when the fish is anything but fresh. Where the color of the fish used to be able to tell us consumers something about the expiration date, it is now only the smell that reveals bad fish.
Directors Darby Duffin and Adam Jones do not stop here. They show the environmental and social consequences and use Gloucester as an example and metaphor for something more: unemployment, abandoned factories, dilapidated homes and inactive fishing boats. America's oldest active port city now has poor odds. Fish & Men characterized by its contagious commitment to the American fishing community. The character 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 stock by means of fish quotas. In the United States, this policy has not helped, but instead has 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: Highly priced fish quotas did not provide access to the bread of the sea, but created debts that no work effort will ever be able to repay.
In the USA, among other things, 90 percent of all shrimp are imported from China.
Fishing rods and shrimp
Individual destinies grip me; as the fishing boat owner who sells both fishing boats and moves to a cheaper home to become debt free. The human drives the documentary forward. Fishermen and the industry get help from celebrities: Celebrity chefs sound the alarm about how the Americans' narrow range of flavors in seafood destroys in order to take care of the traditional fishing boats. You have to expand the menu to "something more than fish sticks and shrimp". Catching and using "unknown" types of fish can be the lifeline for fishermen and give consumers access to local fresh seafood.
Here the film is experienced as being more free and less emotional. The message is clear: Delicious traditional seafood at the fish counter is no longer what most people think. In the USA, 90 percent of all shrimp 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 Climate Festival at BIFF film festival, which this year offers streaming of films www.biff.no.
The climate section celebrates its tenth anniversary and offers great variation in climate and environmental issues thematically and formally. 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, all the way down to the microscopic seahorse.
Dangerous fight against illegal fishing
Film Current Sea by Christopher Smith is an action-packed and occasionally thriller-filled documentary full of vitality set in colorful Asian waters.
The destruction of marine life was a wake-up call for the British diver and activist Paul Ferber, who starts MCC – Marine Conservation Cambodia. The grassroots methods used in casting concrete traps are liberating straight forward. Scaring away illegal fishermen by seeking them out is another.
Wanting to protect marine life can be life-threatening.
The film sheds light on predatory fishing methods with both electric trawling that kills, or pair trawling that cleans and sanitizes mile after mile of sea, but at the same time shows how such methods can be stopped by available means. But the film devotes several exciting sequences to the father by challenging a very lucrative and illegal industry. Wanting to protect marine life can be life-threatening. Being a journalist on environmental issues in Cambodia as well. Australian reporter Matt Blomberg is central to the film.
The gaze in both Fish & Men og Current Sea is based mostly on the point of view of white men. A much-needed different perspective comes towards the end of the film in the form of two young local students who tell more about what the environmental commitment costs, and how vulnerable this work is. That one of these, Rahana Thap, eventually takes over Paul's central role in MCC, balances in that way.
Both movies can streamed on BIFF + 13. – 31. October 2020.
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