Film Review: The End of the Line


Called “the Inconvenient Truth” for the oceans, The End of the Line asks viewers to imagine a world without fish and then proceeds to show them exactly how commercial fisheries are decimating hundreds of wild species that we take for granted as food.

This is the film for people who don’t respond to dry, measured environmental messaging focusing on intangible future effects of current fishing practices. This film uses powerful footage and dramatic music to punch the viewer where it hurts: in the stomach.

The film asks viewers: if you like that fish and chips dinner, or that succulent tuna sushi, or watching your children play in the surf without worrying that the water will cause open sores on their delicate skin, or perhaps enjoying a little snorkeling on your annual vacation, you better sit up and pay attention – now.

In addition to the usually documentary tools – graphs, charts, statistics, and scientists explaining the effects of overfishing – the film is full of exciting, cinematic moments of man (and they are men) vs. fish. Knives flashing and nets heaving in the blood soaked waters of the Mediterranean, as fish are literally beaten to death. It’s gruesome, to be sure, and effective.

There’s also plenty of nourishment for the brain in the form of statistics illustrating just how much fish is caught and eaten worldwide:

Did you know?

The number of long lines set globally every year is enough to circle the globe more than 550 times.

1/10 of what we catch goes overboard every year as waste.

It takes 5 kilos of anchovies to produce 1 kilo of farmed salmon. This practice takes protein directly out of the mouths of poor people in distant countries that depend on this fish for their nourishment – all so middle class people can treat salmon as an everyday commodity food, instead of as the special treat it should be.

The 4,000 ocean reserves that exist cover less than 1% of the ocean.

Bluefin tuna quotas are double what they should be to avoid collapse and triple what they should be to allow a recovery. Even these quotas are ignored. The bluefin situation is so dire that the Japanese company Mitsubishi is stockpiling frozen bluefin in preparation for a collapse.

One bluefin fisherman-turned-whistleblower hangs out on the docks and estimates catches and compares them to what is declared by countries.

He illustrates the crushing immorality of the situation by declaring: “An infamous minority of people are making millions and millions of dollars by decimating a species.”

And it’s definitely just a few people making money. The filmmakers profile artisanal, traditional fisherman who are being squeezed out by the big boats. One fisherman in Africa made $6 from his catch on the day that the filmmakers spoke to him. $4 of those $6 must go to fuel. He has $2 left to feed his family. He’s considering leaving Africa to immigrate to Europe.

If all of this sounds like a downer, it is. But I think it’s necessary to shock some people to get their attention. The best part of the film is the point it makes that, unlike many environmental problems, this problem is eminently solvable. We just need to give the fishing stocks a break and allow them to recover.

All the problem requires is political will and the cooperation of consumers, industry, and governments. We can collectively set quotas and enforce them, we can get restaurants and grocery stores to stop selling overfished species, and we can change our eating habits.

We can eat more tiny fish (they are better for you anyway!), follow the recommendations of the various NGOS like Seafood Watch and Blue Ocean Institute, and we can return to treating wild fish with the reverence it deserves as one of the last wild foods available to humans.

Debuting at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and playing in hundreds of cinemas, aquariums, and universities across the U.S. and the United Kingdom, this film by Rupert Murray was based on the book by award winning British journalist Charles Clover. Screenings are being scheduled in North America at a variety of colleges, and special venues. There’s also a Fish “˜n Flicks restaurant screening tour taking place between Jan. 10 and 24 in and around New York, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Chicago and San Diego. The general North American screening schedule is here.

Check back often for updates, as dates and participating restaurants in the Fish “˜n Flicks tour are still being finalized. A few highlights: Yankee Pier in Lafayette, Calif. on Jan 12, Sea Rocket Bistro in San Diego on January 14, Blue Ridge in Washington D.C. on January 15, Fishtail in New York on January 18, Oliveto in Oakland, Calif. on January 20 and 21.

Vanessa Barrington

Vanessa Barrington is a San Francisco based writer and communications consultant specializing in environmental, social, and political issues in the food system.