film food sustainability

Film review: The End of the Line

The End of the Line premiered tonight, and I got along to a Greenpeace hosted showing in Brixton.

A wake up call on the state of global fisheries, The End of the Line is a powerful new feature length documentary. It is sobering viewing, especially if you’re a sushi fan.

A roster of marine experts, investigative journalists, and career fishermen present their dire findings: since 1950, world fish stocks have fallen by 90%. If we do not regulate our take, logic dictates that at some point there will be no fish left. That fateful day is currenly predicted for 2048.

Of course, all predictions are conditional. With luck, political will and common sense, no such thing will happen. The film is generous with its suggestions for averting disaster. Global quotas are needed, better supervision and enforcement, and a clamp down on illegal fishing. Marine reserves work and need to be expanded beyond the 1% of the oceans currently covered. Decision makers need to make scientific rather than political choices in managing what we have left. We consumers need to be educated, and retailers too. Restaurants need to stop serving endangered species, and celebrity chefs should stop recommending them – there’s some embarassing footage of Jamie Oliver whacking into a great pink slice of bluefin tuna.

There are poignant moments too. One particular sequence shows giant EU supertrawler fleets off the West coast of Africa, having bought the fishing rights and robbed the locals of food and jobs together. A local man wonders aloud if he should try and move to Europe to get his job back, fishing in his own waters, but of course immigration laws forbid it. “The fish has a visa” says a local marine expert, “but the people are turned away.”

While this is a scientific documentary and an activist statement, it is also a very watchable film. The location shots are spectacular, and as widescreen and epic as you could hope for in a nautical adventure. Rupert Murray’s cameras get in amongst the fish and the nets, or restlessly jostle the crowds in the chaos of a Senegalese market. One breathtaking scene shows a traditional mediterranean tuna trap, bare chested fishermen leaping overboard into the thrashing mass of fish, hammering giant hooks into them, and hauling them, cheering, aboard. It’s thrilling and brutal and really quite stunning.

If it has a weakness, it’s that it doesn’t present an alternative view, even if it’s just a matter of knowing your enemy. We see the denial and prevarication from the outside, but I’d have liked to have seen someone from the EU fisheries commission come out and say what they think.

Pardon the pun, but The End of the Line is definitely worth catching if it comes to a cinema near you in the next few weeks. Hopefully it won’t prove as elusive as its subject.

Things you can do:

  • The film is based on investigative journalist Charles Clover’s book, The End of the Line. Clover features prominently in the film, and his book should be well worth a read.
  • When you shop for fish, look out for sustainably sourced products. Youngs are good, and more supermarkets are investing in MSC certified fish.
  • Restaurants are lagging behind the supermarkets in sourcing their fish responsibly. Start asking where it comes from and challenging what you find on the menu.
  • The Marine Bill goes before parliament this summer. It will create legal frameworks for setting aside marine reserves, of which the UK has only two, both tiny. Write to your MP asking them to support the bill, and to press for actual reserves too.
  • And speaking of film makers, if you haven’t seen Murray’s previous documentary, ‘Unknown White Male’, it is moving and intriguing, and completely different from End of the Line.


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