Seaspiracy — Key Take-Aways For Entrepreneurs and Policy Makers
The Seaspiracy documentary sheds an interesting light on the importance of our oceans — and the even more shocking revelation on how they are being destroyed. As entrepreneurs, we have a responsibility, and the opportunity, to build companies that protect our natural resources. Several highly actionable solutions, such as new tax options, methods to cut plastic waste, and a focus on plant-based alternatives can help society shift towards a more sustainable future.
Like many other people, I recently watched the new Netflix documentary Seaspiracy. I enjoyed the film, but more importantly, I think it is a great wake-up call about the problems associated with the seafood and fishing industries.
I finished the film with a better understanding of how our ocean ecosystem works. Astoundingly, our ocean contributes more to a stable climate than the tropical rainforest! The carbon storage capacity of the world’s water supply is critical to the overall balance of our climate, but the excessive fishing and plastic pollution of humans has threatened that harmony.
The Seaspiracy documentary presents a radical solution: to eat less fish in our diet. While this message may appeal to a portion of consumers, I think there are better ways to tackle the problem. The solutions I propose in this article rely on a more broad understanding of how the economy works. As seen from market outcomes, individuals will continue to act in their own self-interest (the infamous invisible hand). With that idea in mind, the destruction of the ocean is a market failure, which means it can be addressed through smart solutions. Government policy will work as a short-term band-aid, but the long-term solution is to reverse our overall behaviour towards eating fish. Plus, from a capitalistic perspective, several opportunities are available within the rising trend of plant-based diets.
Solving Plastic Waste Found In The Ocean
According to the documentary, over 50% of ocean waste consists of fishing nets. Upon further research, I discovered that about 8.3 million tons of plastic is dumped into the ocean each year. With fishing nets covering half the disposal, over 96% of the remaining 4 million tons of waste comes from just 10 rivers of the world. We can pinpoint the exact source of almost 98% of all plastic waste (and no, it is not all plastic straws).
The best solution will help fix the root cause of our plastic waste problem, and I believe it comes down to solving the market with taxation. It is illegal to dump fishing nets, but the enforcement of these laws is a complete failure. Those who dump fishing nets save on the cost of waste disposal, which helps keep profits margins down and lower prices. That kind of activity forces competitors to take the same actions to remain competitive. When we get down to it, people disobey the law to maintain the status quo and increase profits, not because of the policy itself.
In my opinion, the best solution for this problem is taxation. Governments could apply a new tax on all fish produce and plastic nets and then use that tax revenue for plastic capture and disposal. A tax on the source of ocean waste can remedy the market failure and help clean up the current amount of plastic in the ocean. Governments must understand that businesses will not follow the rules of waste disposal if it is not in their best interest to do so. The policies need adjustment to better correct the market inefficiency — people will play by the rules if it helps them.
Plastic Pollution Tax In Action
Here is how a policy tax on plastic waste could work:
Each year, we harvest 180 million tons of marine animals from the sea. If you put a tax of USD 3.00 per Kg of fish, it would create about 540 Billion USD per year. Governments could use that new revenue to pay fisherman for their fishing nets. Instead of dumping the nets into the ocean, the fisherman now has an incentive to bring nets back and dispose of them at government-owned facilities. We could solve the majority share of plastic fishing net waste in a short period of time.
As for the other types of plastic waste found in rivers, we could devise a similar policy. Enforce a small tax on each produced item of plastic, and use the tax revenue collected to build filtration systems into rivers. Since the remaining plastic waste concentrates towards 10 primary rivers, they are an easy first step to build filtration infrastructure.
In total, introducing these taxes can correct the market failures and enforce ethical behaviour in all market participants.
Cutting Fish From Our Diets
The long-term solution for saving the ocean and its ecosystem is to eat less fish. That is easier said than done, as seafood is a delicacy and a staple element of worldwide cuisines. Most consumers enjoy fish in their diet, and it is hard to change those habits. A grass-roots movement is needed to help move more people from a meat-based to a plant-based diet, but entry barriers to that change are high
Capitalistic entrepreneurs can offer solutions to the market to overcome these entry barriers. Incentivising plant-based alternatives to seafood can help contribute to the needed societal change in diet by appealing to consumer self-interest. There are already several innovative options available for plant-based diets at work today. I think these alternatives are an excellent long-term solution, but at the moment, they are still too expensive for most consumers. However, once plant-based meat alternatives become cheaper (and better) than traditional meat, most consumers will switch, similar to what happened with horse carriages when cars came into the market.
Before we reach this inflection point, I see an opportunity for entrepreneurs to target consumer niches. Targeting early adopters offers the potential to build large companies that can capitalize on the rise of vegans. We have identified three prospective niche categories that offer attractive returns on meal-kit subscription services:
- Consumers with underlying health problems: A plant-based, low-calorie diet can fix many lifestyle diseases such as weight gain, diabetes, and high cholesterol, to name a few. I would argue that those consumers have a high level of self-interest in meat alternatives as they can fix current health problems and prolong their life. Offering an easy-to-use and easy-to-follow meal subscription plan positioned as health intervention should be a great product idea with high stickiness and good customer lifetime value.
- Cost-conscious consumers: Meat is one of the most expensive food items we consume. Since 10–30% of the population lives in relative poverty, they are an ideal target group for cheaper and healthier food options. A subscription package with a low per-meal cost (think USD 1.00 per meal) could motivate the target group towards a plant-based diet entirely for monetary reasons. Producing and shipping in bulk could help make unit economics work.
- Sustainability-interested consumers: The last target niche consists of people who are interested in plant-based diets, but they are unable to make the switch due to entrenched habits (I count myself in this target group). Creating a delicious premium offering designed around sustainability could appeal to this target group. Proper diet alternatives combined with recyclable material and compostable waste could help this product succeed. I envision a B2C2C influencer distribution strategy with a one-month gift subscription teaser. The vegan community tends to advocate towards others, so a business plan that takes advantage of vegan micro-influencers could help boost growth.
Overall, I think early adopters in each of these three groups offer very promising rewards while addressing the problem of sustainable living towards our oceans.
Entrepreneurs Can Create Change — And Get Rewarded For It
I believe that persevering our oceans is of utmost importance to the overall health of our planet. To achieve this, entrepreneurs and policymakers can appeal to the self-interest of individuals to motivate change. Toothless laws and forced innovations into the market are ineffective. Taxes on fishing and plastic can combat waste, while cheap and delicious plant-based alternatives by early adopters can help shift the market towards environmentally friendly returns. The opportunities within this space are open to those ready to make changes to the rising plant-based trends.