Focused on the once salmon-rich rivers of the US, in California, Washington, Oregon and Idaho, Artifishal reveals how our response to declining populations of wild fish – namely spawning salmon in artificial hatcheries and then releasing them into the wild – has had the opposite effect from that intended.
Introducing genetically inferior fish into natural ecosystems has overwhelmed and undermined wild fish and vastly contributed to their decline, in turn threatening the lives of other animals which feed on them, such as the killer whales of Washington State. So too have open net fish farms (now banned in some US waters but still present in large numbers in Scotland and Norway) contributed to the huge decline in wild fisheries. By releasing vast quantities of pollutants, pesticides and organic waste into previously clean waters, and by allowing mass outbreaks of parasitic sea lice, which leave fish deformed, open net farms have devastated wild populations.
With a strong focus on the communities that have historically lived near salmon runs and fished from them, Artifishal, produced by Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia, covers these issues with an unapologetically emotional style and with graphic imagery. Though sympathetic to those who choose to fish salmon (many of the key campaigning voices are fly fishermen) it also shows fish being killed in detail and constantly asks the question – why can’t we just leave nature alone? In doing so it offers a raw, sometimes hard-to-watch appraisal of human arrogance when it comes to the natural world.
The main solution proposed is to leave nature be, to let it regenerate in the way it knows best. In making this suggestion it fails to tackle some of the wider, associated questions – does this mean we need to curtail fishing and how would this affect a booming tourism industry? Should we all be eating less fish despite the benefit to human health? But as a call to action, particularly when it comes to the issue of open net farms, it’s provocative and effective.
This was published in the May 2019 edition of Geographical magazine
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