Last night I went to see the documentary The End of the Line, about overfishing and the impending collapse of fish populations, at the Ken Cinema in San Diego. Today is the last day it’s playing there.

The big picture was basically that fish stocks have declined dramatically and are at critical levels. Global fish catch started declining in 1989, but wasn’t noticed until 2002 because some extremely exaggerated figures from China skewed statistics enough that it appeared as though global catch was still increasing. It wasn’t, and isn’t.

The details include a number of fish species that are being over-fished to almost certain extinction, like the highly sought after (and critically endangered) blue fin tuna. Many other species are suffering similar fates, and the lack of large fish predators is causing some strange fluctuations in ocean ecology, resulting in ballooning numbers of other species like rays and jellyfish. Fish farms aren’t a viable solution because farmed fish are actually fed wild-caught smaller fish, further straining the delicate ecological balance. For example, apparently one pound of farmed salmon requires five pounds of a smaller fish such as wild anchovies to produce.

The film wraps up with a heartwarming, optimistic little encouragement to the audience to make sure to request seafood that’s been legally and sustainably caught. A widget is available to determine which fish are best to eat, ecologically speaking, and you can download a pocket guide [PDF] put out by the Marine Conservation Society.

As a sensitive little vegetarian, I was a little icked out by the many, many graphic depictions of fish bloodshed. Potential viewers might also want to take note of the fact that “science in action” typically isn’t terribly exciting to film. Lots of cheesy graphics and stereotypical interviews with professors in their offices, backed with overwrought, dramatic, and incongruous music.

For a more detailed account of the film, check out this post on the Tetrapod Zoology blog.