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It is difficult to imagine never having my favourite food again. I could happily gorge myself on prawns for all three, or six (depending on which magazine you read) meals a day. I might never get the chance to make enough money to eat that much seafood though. There simply won’t be any edible creepy crawlies left in the ocean by the time the world wakes up to the fact that film critics are a basic need and therefore should be paid accordingly.

The feature documentary, The End of the Line, focuses on the plundering of the sea. Because the depths of the ocean are largely hidden from us, the conservation of marine life does not get nearly as much attention as the conservation of land-based wildlife. While the scourge of rhino poaching has made headlines in South Africa and elsewhere in recent months, there has been little focus on the poaching of the ocean.

The documentary is based on the work of investigative reporter, Charles Clover, who also wrote a book on the matter. His research shows that the fishing industry has simply become too tech-savvy for the ocean’s creatures to keep up. The seas, he says, is not a “food factory”. Unlike many other conventional sources of food, fish is not renewable. Cattle can be reared; crops can be grown; fish are just taken from the sea and consumed. Glover warns that if fishing continues the way it does now, we will see the end of most seafood by 2048.

Bluefin tuna, for example, which once fed Roman legions during battle, now feeds the fashion conscious at sushi bars. Countless species – including prawns – are being decimated. This, despite international laws which prohibit fishing in areas where there’s hardly anything left. As Glover points out, “Every other fish on your plate was stolen – stolen from you.”

The problem is not only compounded by a lack of political will, or the financial impact on global fishing conglomerates. What about the livelihood of individuals whose main source of income is the ocean? In Canada, 1992 saw the collapse of cod stocks off the Newfoundland coast, forcing the government to place a moratorium on fishing cod. 40 000 people lost their jobs overnight, sparking riots and mass demonstrations. It didn’t even matter though – fishing stocks have still not recovered and neither have the communities.

The End of The Line is well-researched and balanced, but this is its downfall. Audiences want to be entertained. Documentaries are notoriously difficult to promote as feature films, simply because people associate movies with leisure. Documentaries that have done well commercially, such as An Inconvenient Truth, had celebrity punch (or in this case, the political clout of Al Gore). Having Ted Danson (does anyone even remember him?) narrate the film is not enough.

Gluttonous sushi-lovers are depleting fish stocks.

Even visually, the film does not push boundaries when it should. It’s unfortunate but a bit more blood, the glassy eyes of hordes of dead fish and groups of starving people would hit a lot harder than graphs and researchers explaining the problem. There is, a nice symbolic series of close-up shots at the end of the film, showing the gluttonous masses stuffing sashimi and other ocean delicacies into their mouths. This is followed by a fast-forward sequence of factory lines where fish is packed en masse, ready for consumption. Why the director did not use these kinds of visual metaphors across the film is a mystery.

Documentaries like The End of the Line simply do not have mass appeal, which is a shame as a very compelling message is lost on the very people it is intended for. The film did lead to celebrity chef, Jamie Oliver, removing bluefin tuna out of his recipes, while several UK supermarkets have stopped selling some endangered fish species. It’s just not the same as having Paris Hilton (much as I cannot stand her) denouncing sushi made from the last surviving salmon in the Atlantic.

Director: Rupert Murray
Rating: 2½ out of 5

For more information on what fish to buy or which restaurants and retailers promote responsible consumption in South Africa, visit http://www.wwfsassi.co.za/.

The End of the Line will be screened at selected Ster Kinekor and Nu Metro cinemas.

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