“Losing Nemo” Video Takes Aim at Overfishing–But Does it Go Too Far?

The above video is a highly produced animation that takes a shot across the bow of large fishing vessels. Capitalizing on the public’s affinity for a cuddly clownfish named Nemo from the 2003 Pixar/Disney film Finding Nemo, this six-minute clip of digital agitprop supports the advocacy group The Black Fish.

The Black Fish targets the widespread problem of overfishing with grassroots campaigns, and has been particularly active in the Mediterranean recently. About the above video, the group said:

A group of 32 international animators affiliated with animation studio Mr Lee have worked – entirely voluntary for 5 months – on an ambitious animation film project for The Black Fish, bringing attention to the problems of overfishing and the need for action to turn the tide for conservation.

The artists themselves said they “worked on it in between projects that pay the rent.” They added: “It is our message to the world that we are serious about applying our art to contribute to a better world šŸ˜‰ ”

Some of the claims presented in the clip:

-Fishermen catch 2 trillion individual animals a year, while 40 percent of that is unwanted “bycatch”

-Since the 1950s, 90 percent of all large fish have disappeared from the oceans thanks largely to overfishing

-Environmental groups have long been working to make fishing sustainable, but faces opposition from a powerful fishing lobby

-“We simply can’t negotiate with biology” when it comes to fishing policy

-If current trends continue, overexploited fish will be totally gone by 2048

Clearly, “Losing Nemo” has a bone to pick with overfishing, and the video tries to tug at the heart strings by showing a threatening captain of a big factory fishing boat, plowing through dark and stormy waters. A scene that links a fish (Nemo?) caught in a giant net to a dinner table is clearly meant to make people think about the impacts of their own daily choices (maybe check out National Geographic’s Seafood Decision Guide for some ideas).

I do wonder if the video’s tone might be a little too harsh in depicting the fishing industry as a black-hat enemy. As we’ve covered at National Geographic, there is also a growing segment of the industry that is embracing new innovations in sustainability, along with new business models. There are certainly illegal “pirate fishers” who break the law, although most individual fishermen I’ve talked to seem like good people who are just trying to make a living while being out on the water. It’s already a very tough, and very dangerous, business.

Still, there’s no doubt that overfishing remains a big problem in many parts of the world, especially considering the compound effects of other threats to ocean life. But fishermen are going to have to be part of the solution. Does “Losing Nemo” help educate and engage the public to contribute to that process, or harden fishermen against sustainability further?

It’s an age-old question when it comes to green campaigns, and I’m not sure if there is one answer. What do you think?

Related: Help name this mystery fish, and win a National Geographic Expeditions trip to the Galapagos.

  • Douwe van der Werf

    Hi Brian,

    Thank you for posting our film! I’m the initiator and director of ‘Losing Nemo’.

    The very tough question I guess is: can fishing really be sustainable at all? As with many things, ‘we humans’ have become so ‘advanced’ in our efforts, that we’re seriously harming fragile marine ecosystems.

    I see your point about the ‘black-hat enemy’, although our intent was to show the romantic, outdated picture of fishing (probably still in the minds of many), and contrast it with the insanity of a modern day supertrawler.

    Unfortunately, the fishing industry as a whole has time and again shown its disgerard for the law. Fishing quotas have been ignored on a massive scale, not without consequences. There is no police on the open sea, what happens there simply goes mostly unnoticed. Let’s not be naive about the fishing industry; I don’t think it’s very useful to make this a two-sided debate ā€” there is no controversy about the numbers, the damage done is already quite extreme.

    I agree that fishermen should be part of the solution, but how realistic are sustainable fisheries? The fishing industry is ultimately killing its own source of income. But imagine for instance the Spanish fleet, now covering the entire globe … how can such an ongoing operation be made sustainable?

    With billions of business interest and problems so severe … isn’t sustainable fishing just a vain attempt at improving that which should simply stop?

    • Hi Douwe. You ask some tough questions. What would you suggest to consumers at this juncture, in terms of seafood? As you may know, seafood makes up a critical protein for a huge number of people, especially in developing countries. In developed countries consumers do have more choices, but what would you suggest they do as well?

  • Susie O’Keeffe

    Hello Brian –

    Thank you for covering this story.

    As I understood the video, Blackfish is not talking about individual fishermen and women, it is talking about corporations and, indirectly, the people they exploit on their ships, in the processing factories, at Superstores, etc. They are also pointing out that there is nothing “sustainable” about corporate fishing techniques that dump most of their catch back to die, and take a hugely disproportionate amount of fish to fuel a wasteful system of industrial foods, most of which are profoundly unhealthy (think cheap fast foods). As far as protein goes, yes, many people do rely on fish they catch or other individuals catch and sellā€“ these are not the people Blackfish is talking about. Soon, these individuals will not be fishing at all if we do not wake up to the fact that corporate fishing trawlers raping the seas need to be stopped. And, certainly, there are smaller operators who are also exploiting and taking anything and everything they can. These violations also need to be addressed. Another overlooked fact is how much of the fish kept is wasted. According to the CSMonitor, 40% of all fresh fish is throw away!

    The difficult truth is we need to completely RE-IMAGINE our food systems from how we fish to the fork. It is nothing short of a revolution, yet it must be one based in peace and compassion for all beings…

    There is virtually nothing morally, spiritually, economically, culturally or ecologically “sustainable” in our current corporate food systems. Dismantling corporate control of the commons at sea, as well as on land, is an essential step. And, yes, it will hurt, and we all know that many are making a killing, and some good wages with things as they are, yet, to continue as is is simply a crime. We need to wake up to this fact. At this point, our desire to think that somehow this all can be made “sustainable” makes us complicit.

    If we care at all for the next generation, we will speak the truth as Blackfish does, and get busy tackling this disastrous and immoral situation. The good news is the future could lie in restoration and revitalization of the seas, the rivers, the land. It is up to us, especially those of us in positions of influence and power.

  • Christian Molter

    Instead of asking if the message isn’t a bit harsh (which it is not in my opinion) NatGeo could use all its influence in protecting all species that face endangerement. Most people need education and they need to wake up. The Black Fish are also about creating awareness among people and this movie helps with that. My suggestion is to direct criticism to the supertrawlers and illegal driftnetfisheries.

  • Seabird

    I think BCH has missed the mark in wanting Losing Nemo to be more gentle on the fisheries. I think that we can all agree with your statement “…although most individual fishermen Iā€™ve talked to seem like good people who are just trying to make a living while being out on the water.” The problem is that fisheries are no longer run by fishermen. They are run as multinational businesses, free of any responsibility or ethics that their shareholders do not place on them. Business models suggested economic viability to whaling to extinction- it was only stopped by public outcry. And now the same is happening with Bluefin tuna and other large pelagic fishes in a time with fewer corporate responsibilities and a public fatigued with environmental causes.
    The film makers are right in saying you “can’t negotiate with biology” -and our oceans are being damaged by intractable fishing corporations. I’m sorry that BCH doesn’t like the sound of the bell that Blackfish is ringing, but that doesn’t make the sound (or the data) any less clear.

  • Serge CassĆ©e

    Just a reminder about the most important factor of industrialised fishing:it’s all about money.Nothing more or less. The largest proportion of benefits are reaped by a very small group of individuals who I think are very far removed from and not to concerned about where the catch is coming from and how it is caught,let alone what losses may occur for the future generations.This is my problem with the ones who send out the floating factories all over the seas.
    Local small scale fisheries are the most likely ones who see the benefit of quota’s and no-fishing-zones because they have been hit the hardest and could not move their activities to other parts of the world. Local small fisheries in coƶperation with biologist who could monitor the field and work together to make the most responsible choices where places, species and amounts are concerned,more or less like crofting. I think there are plenty examples by now that this will work,but can it be realised before i’t is to late?
    Consumers are not without some responsibility as well. I think we as consumers should be willing to pay more for what is being harvested if it means there will be something left for the next generations.
    We simply cannot say “we didn’t know” anymore…and on that note I applaud movements like Blackfish for doing what they do to spread awareness among the larger public.

  • Douwe van der Werf

    HI Brian,

    I couldn’t add this reply to your reply, so I guess I’m making a new comment here.

    I’d suggest consumers eat far less or no fish at all. I know it’s a lot to ask of many people, because eating seafood is such an integral part of so many national kitchens. However, I don’t think you need to be an activist to stop or drastically reduce eating fish: especially lovers of seafood should be concerned ā€“ if current trends continue, fish will very soon be a luxury product that few can afford.

    Personally I think it’s ok that people in developing nations go out to sea with fishing rods and some small nets, to catch their own food or perhaps sell some of their catch at a local market. But did you know that fishermen in developing nations are also increasingly harmed by industrial fishing? Why? Simply because of the incredible efficiency of industrial fishing practices.

    Personally I don’t object to eating fish per se (although I don’t). I do object to the scale and force at which fishing happens today. For instance; ‘40% bycatch’ is just a number when you read it in this sentence, I hope we can agree this is an exceptionally high price to pay for the seafood that actually makes it to our plates.

    Another thing not often mentioned in discussions about overfishing is the fact that we’re talking about sentient beings, with a nervous system not so much unlike our own, fully capable of experiencing pain. This is an area where many people stop listening unfortunately.

    We’re facing some tough questions indeed; the answers aren’t simple. I hope our film contributes to general awareness: seafood is no longer a sustainable alternative to eating meat.

  • T.P.Pfeiffer

    Thank you for reporting on this. These are topics which Nat.Geo. could bring up more often; ideally with suggestions for what we “mere mortals” can do to stem the tide of destrucition. šŸ™‚
    (the link to the choices consumers can make is a small start)

    I also think that we will have to re-think how we get our protein. And, the overpopulation of the most dangerous species* on the planet is the main problem, affecting everything else in its wake.
    (* humans, of course…)

  • Jeffrey Milstein

    I agree with Douwe, by you posing the question you did, you almost immediate attempt to discredit the content of the video. Its a passive aggressive way of immediately making most not believe the content.

    To answer your question, there is a lot of things people can do to help even those who chose to eat fish. Not everyone has to be vegan, but if everyone knows about the atrocities being done they may be more sensitive to it, maybe they will eat less, maybe they will waste less, maybe they will consider the pet food industry which is one of the worst offenders and feed their pets healthier. People need to decide by themselves how they can help, and a platform like national geographic should be exposing the industry and supporting this video more than the latter.

    There are many other ramifications outside just an extinction event that impact people everyday. The security threat alone created by not policing our oceans and not enforcing regulations allows for many possible and potential nefarious attacks to occur.

    Please note below are links to a 2 part series I wrote that was published in Forbes Magazine about the impacts of overfishing to our nations security and how they can potentially cause the downfall of the entire maritime industry which without would have devastating global effects.



  • Tanya

    They don’t take it far enough. I think some real life images of turtles hanging on long lines and dolphin’s trapped in giant nets are needed. What is happening in the ocean if far, far more intense and atrocious then what they show on the video.

  • Robin

    The world needs to be more educated on where their food comes from – whether from the oceans and super trawlers, factory farms, or genetically modified crops. The more the customer is educated, the more that they can make conscious decisions.

    For example, Tuna is become a scarce fish: http://news.discovery.com/history/us-history/bluefin-tuna-record-auction-110105.htm , and this means that the more scarce this fish becomes, the more it is worth encouraging over fishing. Most people don’t think of tuna as a ‘threatened’ (yet to be listed because of the push against this label- http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=bluefin-tuna-stocks-threatened-cites-japan-monaco).

    People need to know that if they continue to consume fish at the rate that they are fished, that they will eventually not be able to afford it.

    As a vegetarian, (who does not consume fish or seafood), I let anyone I know these things, and most people are uninformed and ignorant on this subject.

    This video does a great job of educating masses of people on the destructive fishing practices that will put small fishermen out of business, push fish prices above what is affordable, and eventually leave our ocean fish-less and empty.

  • Seamas

    Fair video. Factual and clear message.

    By no means “going to far”,

    The fishing industry has to be better regulated and governments need to listen to scientists telling them overfishing is threatening our oceans and food security.

  • Africa

    no. its not taking it to far. extreme situation require an extreme solution and advertising.
    viva revolusion!

  • John Mayer

    I’m disappointed in National Geographic (assuming you speak for them) in your damning this effort with faint curses. We are facing a catastrophic loss of sea lifeā€”along with coral bleaching, ocean acidification, rising sea levels, etc.ā€”that threatens to change the biosphere on this planet profoundly and forever. And you think we should tiptoe softly around the issue, lest we irritate those that are doing all the damage. I don’t doubt for a moment most fishermen are decent people just trying to make a living. So was the crew at the Fukushima nuclear reactor. That’s not the point. It’s time to act. My contribution has been to give up fish; haven’t had any in going on twenty years now. I DID miss it at first, but not any more. Much of it is full of mercury anyhow.

    • Hi John. My comments on the blog were my own. It’s not that I am suggesting tiptoeing around fishermen, it’s that I’m not sure if showing them to be villains is quite the right approach either. I think it’s ok to show the damage being caused without making fishermen as a group seem evil. I think the comment here about showing turtles on lines, for example, could do that.

  • Claudia

    I think this is a fantastic piece of art that managed to incorporate accurate scientific numbers as well as illustrating some of the nitty-gritty social issues found in complex systems such as fisheries.

    @Brian Clark Howard – I do agree there is a lot to be said for inshore and smaller scale fishers that have much less capacity and fishing power. However, I don’t think this movie is missing out on this (e.g. 2:40). It is just more focusing on the big freeze trawlers which are being subsidised to fish more (even if there aren’t enough fish) and to push small-scale fishers out of business. I also doubt that the big freeze-trawlers are feeding the world as you suggested in an earlier comment. In Europe for example (where we are not exactly struggling for protein sources) the majority of fishermen are so called small-scale fishermen (boats smaller than 12metres). Although they still employ destructive methods (trawling or dredging for example) they land very little of the quota fish. The big majority of the quota is allocated and landed by large vessels (as shown in this movie) and this very much creates the race-to-fish for the remainder of the fleet.

    Instead of investing money in understanding our stocks better through research (and this applies worldwide!), ugly subsidies are being invested in increasing fishing capacity of vessels that otherwise wouldn’t be functional anymore (i.e. in many countries, it is the tax money the ‘everyday citizen’ pays that is used to subsidise overfishing).

    I don’t think this movie is going too far at all. It perhaps just needs a second movie showing the other side of the issues, such as the different kinds of subsidies, political issues and how and why local smaller-scale fishermen are being forced out of business or to still use destructive fishing methods (and how this affects the marine environment).

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