Sharks kill fewer than ten people a year, but we kill tens of millions of the top ocean predators a year, along with millions of tons of other sea life — thus begins VICE’s ocean deep dive. It’s a good point, and one that can’t be made too often: Industrial-sized high-tech fishing operations have gotten so good at catching fish that they’re scooping up whole food chains’ worth of animals and dumping whatever they don’t want. Sharks are just one example of what we’re losing — but when they go, it’s a bad sign for everything else in the water, too.
And while industrial fishing boats empty out the oceans, closer to shore, subsistence fishermen resort to desperate measures to catch what little fish remain. Let’s just say that in an episode that starts out with the rise of armed militias in the U.S., you might hope that the explosives would stay confined to that segment — but alas, no. I’m talking about fishing with dynamite: a destructive, dangerous, and self-defeating trend that destroys fish habitats and does little to feed the people who rely on it.
The one ray of light is a scene of a catch-share program established in the red snapper fishery in the Gulf of Mexico. Ten years ago, there were so few snapper left that the remaining fishermen could barely make a living. With a well-managed catch-share program ensuring enough snapper stay in the water to replenish the population, while the remaining take is divided equitably among the fishermen, it’s a promising model for other critically overfished fisheries. The catch (ha!) is that it requires a bit of teamwork and a lot of political oversight — not things that are exactly abundant in the wild west of open-sea fisheries.
It’s all pretty grim, and probably won’t exactly whet your appetite — but VICE’s documentary also features some pretty compelling photography, as well as a nighttime inspection of an industrial longliner in Madagascar, a covert shark-fin sting in Tanzania, and other fishy hijinks. You can watch the full episode tonight at 11 p.m. ET, if you are one of the HBO-chosen. If you aren’t, try gobbling up this sneak peak: