If you want to be shot in Alaska, other than doing it yourself (which, given the low levels of sunlight in winter it seems a lot of people do. The state has the highest per capita suicide rate in the US), there are 2 ways. Say the wrong thing about Sarah Palin to the wrong person or announce loudly and proudly that you eat farmed fish. Man, they hate that. On the surface (or under it at least, ha ha!) farming seems a sensible solution. In areas where the salmon population has been overfished, give the wild ones a chance to recover by placing huge net cages near the shore and grow the little blighters like chickens. That way, the supermarkets remain stocked with nutritious tasty fishies, jobs are provided for areas hit by a collapsed fishing industry (by necessity, fish farms are set up in areas where the salmon occur naturally, often at the mouth of a spawning stream) and nature is untouched to carry on doing what it does. Right?
Well, no as it happens. The fish farms are messing up the environment just as much, if not more as fishing. Fish, like chickens, are not designed to confined to a cage in huge numbers. When one fish gets an infection, a lot of the other salmon, being in close proximity, also become infected. The infection affects the skin and the fish shed flakes of infected scales. As they are in a net, these flakes float out into the sea, where the wild salmon either leaving or returning to their natal stream swim through a huge cloud of horribleness. Wild fish in turn become infected, making it very hard for the natural population to recover and/or stay healthy.
Strike one for the fish farms. Strike two is the fact that in order to combat the infections, fish farms pump a lot of antibiotics into the water, which not only cause mutations in the farmed salmon (which we then eat, even the mututated ones), also of course cause untold damage to the wild population beyond the nets. And thirdly, farmed fish tastes awful, really fucking bad. As I said earlier, I used to think I didn’t like fish, I know realise I love fish, just none of the fish I’ve eaten before. I’ve been lucky enough to eat a lot of fresh seafood in the last 3 weeks. Halibut, rockfish, lingcod, shrimps, crab and, of course, salmon. It truly and honestly tastes fantastic – fresh, delicate and healthy. I’ve eaten it every day, breakfast, lunch and dinner. I’ve not eaten meat for 3 weeks (aside from a hot dog, gimme a break, I was drunk) and have felt no desire to. From a raw chunk sliced from a beautiful, whole, deep red coho (sockeye), rockfish tacos, home-smoked king salmon to crab cakes, I’ve stuffed my face.
I’ve eaten corn-fed beef from happy cows and it does taste “nicer” than feedlot cattle, but the difference between farmed salmon and wild salmon is staggering. It’s a million miles from what we in Europe (or me at least) know as fish. I loved it. Obviously, I was lucky enough to be in a place where some of the world’s finest is plucked directly from the ocean, if you catch it yourself, sea to plate in 3 hours. Very few of the 175 million make their way to Europe and when they do the price is often prohibitive for mere mortals, but if you ever get the chance to try it, leap (see what I did there?) at it. And do us all a favour, when you eat fish, eat sustainably caught fish and secondly, you’d always buy free-range chickens so please don’t eat farmed fish, it’s really not worth it.