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Published:11 June 2009
A powerful image from fishing around the world in The End of the Line
A powerful image from fishing around the world in The End of the Line
Fish stocks crisis goes even deeper

Directed by Robert Murray
Certificate U

IF you saw a restaurant menu advertising prime cuts of giant panda, or offering a rhino stew, you would quite rightly be disgusted, and public opinion would quickly ensure that the eatery in question would be forced to change what its kitchen fridges held.
But across the world, and in leading restaurants such as Nobu, a magnificent creature on the verge of extinction is readily available.
The animal in question is the blue fin tuna, one of the most beautiful of big fish, and as this new film by Rupert Murray explains, its fate is symptomatic of the oceanic crisis that faces us.
This is a super-scary environmental catastrophe piece in the same vein as global warming eco-flick The Age of Stupid. We’re told that we have now reached a crucial tipping point: either we make a global effort to tackle the fact we take too much fish from the oceans, or face a future where our seas are simply mud and worms, and nothing else.
Murray based his film on a book by veteran Daily Telegraph reporter Charles Clover and it identifies a variety of villains: they range from the companies who build giant trawlers to scrape the bottom of the sea bed clean of all creatures, to Chinese civil servants.
For much of the 1990s and the early 21st century, world statistics on fish stocks were skewed because lowly Chinese government workers simply made up the numbers of fish they were catching to please those higher up in the fishing department. While across the world data showed catches were falling disastrously, the fake Chinese figures meant scientists looked at a global view and thought stocks were steady as catches seemed to be increasing.
Rupert believes the inability to accept that we have reached a crisis point with fish stocks comes from a variety of causes. The fact that fishermen know better than anyone else where to catch fish – this is a talent passed down by generations and is now enhanced by the technology they have at their disposal, ranging from sonar to spotter planes – means they may be able to hunt down shoals with deadly efficiency, leading to fishermen sometimes thinking there must be lots left as they are still bringing in hauls.
“Individuals’ stories do not represent a bigger picture,” Rupert concludes.
Devastating facts roll off the screen. There are 1.5 billion hooks on long lines out there and the lines themselves could stretch around the globe 600 times over. The industry’s capacity is such that the fleets could catch the remaining fish in the sea four times over.
“Often there is a feeling that science has let fishermen down in the past so many times they just do not trust the scientists,” says Rupert. “They feel that scientists sit in their labs and do not go out on the boats and survey the stocks properly.
“They understandably can be sceptical when someone shows up from somewhere like London and says ‘There is a real problem here’.”
The film pays respect to the job the fishing industry does while pointing out that the fate of fish populations and fishermen go hand in hand.
And this means fishing communities must take the lead in preserving what is left – and helping the oceans make a full recovery.
Rupert’s film, with its worldwide reach, interesting interviews, balanced arguments and sumptuous footage of the beasts of the deep, is both an informative call to arms and an enthralling piece of film-making as we get to head out to sea in all conditions.

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