Rupert Murray’s The End of the Line explores the devastating impact of overfishing on our oceans. Based on a book by journalist Charles Clover, the chilling documentary proposes that without the appropriate action, we may see the end of seafood by the year 2048. Flavorpill spoke with Murray about the impact of Clover’s work, public responsibility, and what he hopes audiences will learn from his film. New Yorkers Note: The End of the Line will be screening at Rooftop Films on Governor’s Island on September 4th at 8 p.m.
Flavorpill: Your film is based on The End of the Line, Charles Clover’s book about the dangers of overfishing. What drew you to Clover’s work and in what ways did he contribute to the film?
Rupert Murray: Clover was the first to put together all the pieces of a very large and complicated jigsaw puzzle and lay out in no nonsense journalistic terms (it’s still a cracking read). What exactly was going on; who was to blame; how it could be solved. I liked the book because he revealed the shocking truth about how we have been strip mining the sea, and he elegantly obliterated a series of myths that many people still cling on to — like the idea that the sea is inexhaustible, all fishermen are wholesome adventurers, etc. The sheer detail he was able to go into was the most mind-blowing aspect for me, something we were not able to replicate in the film. Charles and I and three producers formed a company to make the film, and Charles advised us throughout the process, although I went off and filmed large parts of the story on my own. In a sense, he had already made his journey when he wrote the book.
FP: According to The End of the Line, scientists predict that if we continue fishing as we are now, we will see the end of most seafood by 2048. Who is to blame for this? Should the general public accept responsibility?
RM: If people don’t realize it’s going on, it’s difficult to make them accept responsibility for it, nor should they be held to account really. The first process is to raise awareness. If we know what is happening and we don’t change, that would be wrong. That’s where, for me, human society very often falls down. We have the solutions, but we fail, for whatever reason, to act. The global fishing industry, fisheries scientists, and governments around the world did know what was happening, but still let things decline, and that really is inexcusable. Their record for putting in measures to stop unsustainable extermination of billions of creatures is by anyone’s standards, appalling. Luckily people like Clover, Daniel Pauly, Boris Worm, Roberto Mielgo, Greenpeace, WWF, Oceana, and Pew were there to blow the whistle.
FP: You mentioned in the director’s Q&A on your film’s website that the fishing industry is a relatively small and simple industry to regulate. Why then are governments, for example the EU, not willing to set realistic limits on overfishing? Does the fishing industry really have that much political clout?
RM: Fish don’t vote and politicians who deal with fish quotas are lobbied very hard by industry and don’t hear from concerned citizens or consumers about their failure to look after the sea so they are likely cave in to the demands of the fishermen. If we can show decision makers that this film is waking people up to the facts and that people do actually care then maybe this will translate into decisions that work for the citizen and the fish. The health of the industry will follow once the sustainability of the resource is secured.
FP: With so many environmental problems seemingly all coming to a head at once, do you think that sustainable fishing should take precedence over other issues?
RM: I think it should be thought of as one of the most important issues of our time. It’s difficult to apply a points system or list issues in order of their magnitude but overfishing is huge – some people think second only to climate change. Seven tenths of the world is covered by the seas and there are lots of interactions between ocean and climate that could be upset by overfishing, that’s on top of the food security and localized environmental issues already present. Hopefully in the film we show that climate change, overfishing, and world food security are all inextricably linked. We need to solve all of them and destruction of the world’s oceans could be the simplest and cheapest one to start with.
FP: The End of the Line contains beautiful footage of marine life. This footage is in sharp contrast with shots of fishes’ bodies being sliced open. Both visually and narratively, what was the balance you were trying to create between footage of the seas’ beauty and of its destruction?
RM: I tried really hard to make a cinematic observational epic; it didn’t quite turn out like that, mainly because individual moments of observed actuality in the grand scheme of things weren’t as powerful as perhaps a summation of a groundbreaking scientific paper encompassing fifty years of human activity. Every part of the film needed to be imbued with the power of the global dilemma and that was very difficult to achieve without making it very dull. So we battled with the subject matter, and in the end the subject matter won, but I think if you make a film about dancing and singing penguins falling in love people don’t leave the cinema and say, “right no more fish fingers then” (I refer to the plot of Happy Feet where main character Mumble leaves his true love to tell humans that the penguins can’t find fish to eat, or perhaps he’s just banned from the community for being different). Whatever, we felt that for the first time someone just needed to hammer the message home and some poetic moments of human drama were lost but our story was simple… the world is running out of fish… help!
FP: What would you like people to get out of the film?
RM: I hope they are shocked. I hope they begin to care about fish. I hope they start to ask questions about where their fish comes from and only to buy it from a sustainable source. We want people to tell politicians to respect the science when taking decisions about how much fishermen can catch and to reduce the overall fishing effort. We also want people to join our campaign for Marine Protected Areas, zoned areas where no fishing takes place, to rebuild the fish populations that we have lost. If these things become commonplace the seas will rebound with life. It’s really quite simple.
To learn more about this issue, visit endoftheline.com/campaign.