I’ll Have The Fish

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Spawn or Die? The Choice is Yours. Photo by Louis Cahill

Is Aquiculture Wrong?

I got into a discussion with a friend the other day that put a burr under my saddle. We were talking about what fish is OK to eat and what isn’t. Not in the way that I refuse to eat a catfish from the Chattahoochee but rather how no one should be eating wild steelhead. My friend, who is not a fisherman, asked “what about farm raised fish?” Without thinking about it I said, “sure, that’s fine”. He then went on to explain that he did not eat farm raised fish because it was cruel to take a fish that was meant to be free and confine it in a pen. ( I’m not going to dwell on this idea for too long for reasons that I think are obvious. If that’s the story you want to hear, click here! ) I am unashamedly opposed to the idea of causing unnecessary pain and suffering to any living thing but I also understand what these teeth were put in my head for. I could write a couple of thousand words on this but instead I’ll leave it at this. I remember standing on a gravel bar in Alaska watching a salmon struggling in the current. The fish’s tail was missing along with the last eight inches of him. Two trout were following taking turns eating him while he was still alive. My point being, if we are going to get into the business of attaching human emotions like happiness to fish, let’s be sure we’re choosing the correct emotions. Nobody cares about fish more than me, but that’s their nature. If you hold still long enough, they’ll eat you. I’m really not sure what happiness is to a fish but most of them will choose to stay in one spot if there is plenty of food so I’m not worried about the pen.

Still, this got me thinking. Did I give the right answer? Is fish farming OK? With recent outbreaks of Infectious Salmon Anemia in the Pacific Northwest spreading from fish farms and threatening wild Pacific salmon I had to wonder. Hundreds of thousands of farm raised fish escape into the ocean spreading, not only disease, but their scientifically altered genes, wreaking god knows what kind of havoc on wild populations. Sometimes these escapees are non-native species that out compete native fish. In fact, these fish don’t even need to escape to do their damage. With massive fish farms at the mouthes of some of the world’s best steelhead and salmon rivers wild salmon, steelhead and smelt must run a gauntlet of disease every year to spawn. And what of the impact of all those penned up fish on the ecosystem? It’s clearly a mess but what’s the answer?

The world’s rapidly expanding demand for seafood is greater than the oceans can sustain. Popular species like tuna are under immense pressure. Fish size and numbers are way down in the open ocean. Clearly we can’t all eat wild fish. I spoke to my friend Michael White about this. “Whitey” is now a sales rep for the biggest names in the fly fishing business but for many years he guided. He’s one of the best steelhead and salmon anglers I know. Interestingly, Whitey doesn’t eat fish. He loves it but he doesn’t eat it. I’ve known that for a long time but we had never talked about why exactly. Here’s what he told me. After guiding for six or seven seasons in Alaska and watching the average angler kill upwards of a dozen fish a day he started feeling uneasy about it. Every year seeing more and more anglers and fewer and fewer fish he started to worry. When the guides fished for the camp kitchen, Whitey put down his rod and took on the responsibility of personally killing the fish. “So it could be done properly, and with respect,” he told me. He continued,”after personally killing thousands of fish I feel I have a debt to pay. For me not eating fish is part protest and part payback. Protest for what’s being done to our fisheries and payback for the fish I’ve killed. As a person who’s entire life and livelihood comes completely from fly fishing, I’m so grateful for that resource. I think those of us in the industry have to do everything we can to protect it. I’m afraid we don’t do enough.”

We are stuck with Aquiculture, like it or not. We are likely also stuck with over-fishing and diminishing fish numbers and size. I certainly don’t have the answer. I do, however feel pretty certain that the answer is not to be found in either ignorance or apathy. As the world population continues to skyrocket we need to start thinking hard about our decisions and how they impact the resources we enjoy and depend upon. We have to think about how we fish and what fish we eat. I’ll doubtless take some heat for saying this, but I’ve come to the conclusion that if you want better fishing the best thing you can do is use a condom! That’s the real issue. There are too many folks in this world for us to all make selfish choices. Like Whitey, we all need to start thinking about the debts we owe. We need to realize that the choices we make, on the stream and at the table, effect the quality of our future fishing experience. Of our future period, for that matter. We must make smart decisions. As for me,

I’ll have the fish.

Here’s a great site to help you choose.

Louis Cahill
Gink & Gasoline
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17 thoughts on “I’ll Have The Fish

  1. Having a hard time reading the blog. It seems the content is being overlapped by the navigation menu. It doesnt matter what size I view it in it still overlaps. I can adjust the scroll bars as I read but that gets troublesome. I think the content is killer and I wish I could read more. Hope this helps.

    • Sorry for the trouble Jason. Set your monitor resolution higher and that should solve the problem. We are currently working on a redesign that will solve this and other issues. Thanks for your understanding and support.

    • What we have come to call “the dreaded black bar” also invades the blog space if your monitor resolution is set very low. If you are a fan of the black bar. Enjoy it now. It’s days are numbered!

  2. Great article. I managed to read even with the black bar! The issue of over population is a touchy subject but you are so right. Not only fishing but many of out world problems stem from over population.
    As for your statement on not eating certain fish. I’m about to begin my second year of being a salmon guide on the Kasilof river in Alaska and I’m already starting to feel the way your friend does , however I still eat fish. There are some fish like sockeye salmon, that are running in record numbers that demanding wild fish for eating helps the economy as well as the future for the fishery for the time being.

    • For the record I should say that I do eat fish and salmon is one of my favorites. When I fish in Alaska I usually camp and catching a salmon for camp dinners is one of the first things on the to do list. I do try to be responsible in what I take and what I buy. As for the over population issue it’s just a fact and some folks just don’t like facts. It’s good to remember that in any situation there are often many truths but generally only one set of facts.

  3. I tell you Louis this is a great article that really should make people think.. I will agree that the over population is the greatest contributing factor to the diminishing resources such as fish and even water! Look at lake Lanier! People always wonder why it can hardly ever get that extra 10-20 feet back like it used to be… Well folks do the math 20 yrs ago there were not x million people in Atlanta flushing, watering etc.. Here is an interesting idea when you go to buy that salmon at Harry’s there in Atlanta don’t buy it.. Buy something else that say is local.. Some communities are actually starting a trend in only eating what is within say 250 mile radius of their home! Only have salmon when you go to the pacific nw.. I mean do we really need to eat that Chilean sea bass when we go to a nice restaurant in ga or fl or where ever? I was at a restaurant in Ellijay GA a couple of years back and they were actually serving marlin and sword fish? No wonder our resources are diminishing wild fish like this no longer get pressured from locals they get pressure from someone thousands of miles away! In all honesty there are grey areas in anything even in this comment… I will be the first to admit I love fish (to eat) but I’m not going to eat snapper if I’m visiting Canada lol.. And granted treating yourself every once in a while doesn’t hurt but remember there are millions out there treating themselves also lol…. I’m sure the commercial fisherman would love this comment lol… But think about it… Not to mention you can always Eat mOre chiKen rofl…

  4. The more I learn about farmed fish (ie. mercury toxicity) the more I am pushed towards a vegan diet, supplimented with the occassional steak, lamb or turkey. I would like to say I only eat fish I catch, but the truth is I release most of the fish I catch, and eat canned tuna and the occassional wild caught salmon from Kroger. I am not sure of the “correct” approach to the situation but I appreciate the dialog as I contemplate my next assault on the Hooch DH.

  5. Living in the Pacific Northwest has its problems but lack of fishing oportunities isn’t one of them. what is unusuall is that I’m seeing more and more commercial preasure on Columbia River stocks as time goes by. The hatcheries pumping huge numbers into the system with fewer returning every year.Fishing Preasure not in the rivers but from offshore fishing in Alaskan and Canadian waters. I personally have been blocked from boat basins in BC coastal waters by commercial nets so thick as to make access to returning to the boat basins impossible until the nets were retreaved. Sport fishing seasons have been drasticly cut and DNA testing of commercial caught fish off these North pacific coastal shores show the fish harvested are a huge number of Columbia River fish. Our sport fishing dollars here are filling the commercial wallets thanks to the lobbyists in state and federal office buildings. I eat steak and chicken when of fishing trips. I believe that greed on many levels if not curbed will doom our Salmon and Steelhead fishing in the not to distant future. It seems that for the honest soul the choices will be hard, Tilapia anyone?

  6. Great post. Thanks for writing about this subject. As a former commercial fisherman in Veracruz, I wrestle with the idea of consuming fish when our local fisheries are so decimated. There seems to be a new sushi joint opening around the world every ten seconds. Thanks for helping raise awareness! You’re so right about overpopulation. Having five kids and proudly putting out your recycling bin and believing you’re ecologically righteous is a huge part of the problem. For the sake of the planet, each individual should limit themselves to two progeny, three at the most. I know remarks like this provoke anger and resentment. Tough shit. It’s the only way to save this planet.

  7. I had a friend who had but one bumper sticker on his fishing vehicle. It said,”Farm fish dyed for you”.

    Once you read and understand all that is added to aquaculture fish it becomes difficult to say they are worth eating or even safe to eat. I would urge everyone to become educated about what is found in a given fish.

    Then become educated as to what is found immediately around the pens that the fish are raised in.

  8. It is actually Aquaculture for fish farming. Aquiculture is for growing plants without soil e.g. Hydroponics. Must admit I am guilty typically eat only wild fish if I can get it but wholeheartedly agree with the condom comment planet is too small for our ever increasing population!

    • Paul, Research is showing that mixing of wild and hatchery anadromous fish is not good for the gene pool. Wild fish suffer.
      The State of Washington after a pen of salmon escaped due to a serious malfunction have now outlawed fish farming.
      The farmed fish compared to the wild fish in the fish market are a lot less expensive, creating a demand. They are however a disaster to the environment.
      I am sure if you Google some questions about farm fish you can get some serious research answers. If your friend thinks that killing any thing in nature is mean and nasty to the species, have him visit a feed lot for cattle or chickens or turkeys. Farmed fish are the same, but in the water. All the poop is in the water. All the medicines are in the water. And they are all found in the immediate area since the pens are placed in locations with least chance of suffering damage due to natural storms or weather conditions. That means there is little flushing action of the water and the residue from the pens.
      My friends bumper sticker that said, “Farm fish dyed for you” refers to the fact that the food given to the farmed fish does not give them the pinkish orange of a wild salmon. In order to sell the fish, they have to color it with a dye so you think it is salmon. Otherwise, it would look like cod.

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