Foodosophy – The End of the Line

with No Comments

Wednesday August 28th at The Turl Street Kitchen
Topic: The End of the Line (documentary)


The Foodosophy Group organised by Cultivate members in Oxford meets on the last Wednesday of every month to discuss a book or article, watch a film, or, occasionally, eat a meal. The remit is around Food and its relationship with philosophy, politics and economics etc. Open to all – see here for more details.

This month’s Foodosophy session was a viewing of  the documentary film The End of the Line (2009). The write-up is by Michael Buick:

Ever thought about where the fish sitting on your pile of chips came from?

This week the Foodosophy group gathered to watch the film ‘The End of the Line’. It documents the terrifying collapse of world fish stocks: humans have literally emptied the seas. The fish have gone. We have eaten them. Fishing is one of the oldest human activities but the arrival of industrial trawlers using high-tech equipment to hunt down shoals has changed what was once a relatively sustainable harvest of nature’s bounty into a global devastation of the world’s oceans, driven by greed. The wanton destruction of irreplaceable riches for short-term profits is enough to make one weep. It is literally sickening.

The film, however, was not without hope. We learned that it was misreporting that had caused delay: whilst local stocks of fish seemed to be declining, the global data showed the world’s catch going up and up, until someone realised that most of this growth was coming from China, whose officials where quite simply making up the numbers to satisfy their superiors. Hence it was only in 2002 that the real story became apparent: the global catch had actually been in decline since 1988. A number of the documentaries commentators expressed optimism that with a rapidly growing body of knowledge of the true situation and likely impacts, politicians and the public would swing behind the necessary measures that could turn the situation around. Unlike some of the other challenges faced by the human race this one is relatively simple to solve – “It’s not rocket science”. The creation of significant marine reserves, where fishing is completely outlawed, along with strict management of the global fishing capacity – cutting the number of boats down to below the level for sustainable catch – could allow us to manage the sea for recovery.

The ultimate lesson was summarised by Charles Clover, the journalist whose book formed the basis of the documentary: “Our entire philosophical approach has to change”. Human culture has evolved to treat the sea as a source of infinite bounty to be exploited as we please. We’ve demonstrated how foolish this belief is and within a matter of years turned a once rich ecosystem teaming with life into an increasingly barren and ugly ‘dead zone’, a shadow of its former self. This is not just about whether our children will be able to enjoy delicious flavours of the seafood we’ve grown up with. This is about understanding that every life-form contributes to the rich web of life that ultimately makes our planet inhabitable. When our fishing fleets wipe out whole species and trash the seafloor with their bottom trawling they are ripping up the fabric of biology that makes our home not only beautiful but ultimately inhabitable. The result, which we are already starting to see, is the transformation of clear waters teeming with awesome life into murky dead-zones, inhabited only by jellyfish and worms. Breaded plankton-fingers anyone?

We have to wake up to the fact that we are able to and in the process of destroying nature and tearing up the foundations of life. If we accept this we can start to take responsibility for managing our global resources, protecting them, and helping them to recover and flourish.


The Foodosophy group meets on the last Wednesday of the month.

The next Foodosophy gathering is on Wednesday 25th September, discussing the book Hungry City: How Food Shapes Our Lives. More info on how to get involved here.

Taking Action

Interesting facts from the film (released in 2009, so a few years out of date).
• The fishing lines released into the oceans every year could wrap around the planet 550 times
• Blue Fin tuna is on the verge of extinction. Mitsibushi controls 60% of the Blue Fin market and has shown active signs of encouraging the fleets to fish until the last Blue Fin has been caught. Mitsibushi has a stock-pile of frozen fish worth many millions of dollars.
1.2 bn people depend upon fish as a significant part of their diet.
• West Africans have relied on their coastal water for centuries to supply a sustainable harvest for local fisherman. Their fish are now being stolen by industrial fishing boats sailing down from Europe, sometimes using fishing quotas sold to them by the countries governments, sometimes simply illegally. Some fishermen who find they can no longer make a living and support their children are forced to migrate to Europe. “The fish have visas for entry, but the fishermen do not”!
10% of fish caught are discarded dead back into the sea most fish farms rely on fishmeal from fish caught in other parts of the world.
• For every 1kg of farmed salmon it takes 5 kg of anchovies, caught and turned into fish food – why not just keep the anchovies?
• In 2009 0.6% of the ocean was covered by marine reserves, allowing fishing in over 99% of the ocean. This has now risen to 2.4%. Progress, but 20% to 30% of the ocean needs to be protected in order to halt the collapse. The cost of this would be just $12-$14 billion US dollars, less than the total amount of subsidies that governments pay to the fishing industries!
• The cod stocks off the coast of Canada collapsed in the late 1980s, leading to a total ban on cod fishing in 1993. Cod has never recovered.

Some good quotes
• “Every other fish on your plate was stolen, stolen from you.” Charles Clover
• “We have just squandered one of the greatest resources we’ve ever had” Charles Clover
• “But the sea betrayed us”, Adam, W African fisherman who can no longer support his family
• “With every species that disappears, some of those [ecosystem] services are eroded… This could be a road of no return.”