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End of The Line, a documentary about the dwindling stocks of fish.

George Duffield/(C) George Duffield

3 out of 4 stars


Directed by Rupert Murray

With Charles Clover

Classification: NA

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Another day, another film about environmental collapse.

The latest doomsday documentary is based on English journalist Charles Clover's book of the same name, which chronicles the decline in fish stocks around the world over the past few decades.

As a young man, he once caught a 10-kilogram salmon in a Welsh river, the last big fish anyone ever caught there, and he has felt guilty about it ever since. As environmental editor of The Daily Telegraph, he decided to find out what was happening to the world's fish supplies with his book The End of the Line (subtitled How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat ).

An estimated 90 per cent of the world's large fish - tuna, cod and salmon - have disappeared from the ocean since 1950 and, extrapolating from the current rate of decline, some experts believe that, by mid-century, there may be nothing left but plankton, jellyfish and worms.

The movie takes us from Newfoundland, where the collapse of the cod fishery was the world's first big wake-up call, to the Strait of Gibraltar, Alaska, Senegal and Tokyo, as various scientists, activists and fishermen point their fingers at the same culprit. Late-20th-century trawling techniques have greatly reduced popular fish species and caused collateral damage to other marine life.

According to Clover, modern "beam trawling," which drags the ocean floor, has the equivalent effect of "ploughing a field seven times a year."

Before the films of Michael Moore and Davis Guggenheim's An Inconvenient Truth made theatrical documentaries useful political tools, a film such as The End of the Line would find its natural home on public television, where its overview approach would be a natural fit. Occasionally, there's a sense that director Rupert Murray ( Unknown White Male ) pushes too hard to make this a big-screen experience. The score is bombastic, and the juxtaposition of images of beautiful, iridescent fish with shots of tuna being gutted and wealthy diners feasting on their meals feels more like an argument for vegetarianism than against overfishing.

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True to the formula of such films, The End of the Line finishes on an optimistic, activist note as various scientists suggest this crisis may be solvable: Reduce the size of the fishing fleets, create more marine reserves around the world and encourage consumers to eat only sustainable fish.

The End of the Line 's most topical hook is its exploration of bluefin tuna, which, as a sushi delicacy, is sometimes called the "most expensive meat on the planet."

Pirate ships catch the fish illegally in the Mediterranean, and the Japanese corporation Mitsubishi sends out fleets armed with electronic scanners to detect the remaining fish. The film accuses the company of stockpiling frozen fish in preparation for the time when bluefin tuna is commercially extinct.

Meanwhile, Robert De Niro's high-end sushi chain, Nobu, continues to serve the fish, though it adds a footnote to its London menu, warning consumers that the fish is endangered. As someone says, it would be difficult to imagine someone doing the same thing with an endangered animal such as the snow leopard or white rhinoceros.

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About the Author
Film critic

Liam Lacey is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More


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