Making waves

Are we in danger of emptying our oceans of fish? talks to the York students behind a new film shedding light on the subject

If you stroll through the supermarket tuna aisle, you might not think about where it’s all come from. But a new documentary from York students shows that how we catch the fish we eat has a huge, and potentially dangerous, impact on our world.

As filmmaker and recent University of York graduate Matthew Judge explains, Troubled Waters (viewable for free above) grew out of his time as an Environment student and his involvement with YSTV. “Essentially I wanted to keep creating, and I figured I wanted to push myself to see if I could put together a film of more substantial length and with a complex message. The idea formed more tangibly when I was accepted onto the MSc course at York. I saw an opportunity to exploit the knowledge of the lecturers, the access to the wider (fishing) industry and my own engagement with the material and slowly the idea developed into what is now Troubled Waters.”

He was determined to make the film a serious tool for raising awareness of overfishing, using his scientific background: “One thing that does (honestly) make Troubled Waters different from other films about overfishing is that I wanted a very high standard for the science in the film. I used peer-review almost exclusively so that meant a lot of reading and breaking down sometimes complex science into more accessible pieces and being open and transparent on where I got the information from – so people could look into it for themselves.”

Overfishing sounds like a dry and difficult subject, but you’ll never think that again after watching Troubled Waters. Judge gives a thorough and fascinating demonstration of the incredible scope of the fishing industry, often backed by government support, and how we could be in danger of emptying the oceans of fish. The film has connected with audiences, earning nearly 3000 views on YouTube so far.

“Overfishing isn’t that sexy on the surface, despite FishLove’s best efforts (Google image search that one),” Judge jokes, “but look a little deeper and it’s a really interesting topic. There is a huge organised criminal element to a lot of it, corruption and slavery and piracy!”

Troubled Waters was scored by York student Robert Drane, who explains that he wanted to be involved in the project because of its subject matter. “It is not well-discussed whatsoever. When we think environmental issues, we first consider ‘global warming’, ‘deforestation’ or ‘poaching’. The world underwater is the last foreign land out of human influence on this planet… Fishing is a direct industry of ours and so we forget that it is etching a hole into nature too (it is almost like fossil fuels where we turn a blind eye and ‘forget’ where the source of all this energy/food really comes from). Matt’s film is very interesting to the general viewer and clear to understand – working on it certainly made me regard the issue more strongly. Having watched it over many more times than I would like to admit, I think I’ve learnt a lot from it too!”

Ultimately, Judge hopes to use the film to raise awareness of how we can act to ensure the fish we buy comes from sustainable sources: “Students concerned about overfishing should investigate and make the decisions about what they buy for themselves because I guarantee it is not as boring as it sounds. I make the point in the film about the MSC label and using seafood guides and they are good starting points – and they are things you can do very easily with very little effort. You can also support NGO’s – COAST in Scotland are amazing, and the Black Fish is an exciting new movement with opportunities to actively contribute to conservation. The best thing you can do though – is tell other people! It’s consumers (I hate that term, when did we stop being people?) that have the power.”

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