Monday, December 19, 2011

Of Fish Farms, the Absurd, and the Unnatural

Guest Blog by Michael Shurgott

The American Heritage Dictionary defines absurd as: "Ridiculously incongruous or unreasonable; [lack of] order or value in human life or in the universe; meaningless." Unnatural means: "Violating natural law; inconsistent with an individual pattern or custom; deviating from a behavioral, ethical, or social norm."

I submit that the proposal to add a huge fish farm in the Strait of Juan de Fuca (as reported earlier in the Seattle Times: “Plan for huge fish farm in Strait roils the waters”) is hideously absurd and unnatural, and should be scrapped immediately.

Fish farms raise Atlantic salmon, a non-native (i.e., unnatural and invasive) species, in huge nets that cram millions of fish into an unnatural and unhealthy environment. In these pens, fish waste is concentrated and the pens promote disease, including the highly contagious and deadly ISA virus, which has been spread across the planet by farmed fish. It has contributed not only to the deaths of millions of farmed fish around the world but also been implicated as a potential cause for the collapse of the famed Fraser River wild sockeye runs in Canada.

Further, to compound the unnaturalness and absurdity of these farms, the farmed fish are fed wild fish and the fish farmers kill hundreds of seals and sea lions that are attracted to the pens. Anticipating the impending restoration of a free-flowing Elwha River and presumably huge runs of wild salmon, if the Juan de Fuca fish farm is allowed to operate will we see fish farmers seeking to kill not only more seals and sea lions but also endangered orcas that will be attracted to the Elwha’s wild fish runs? Would we tolerate the absurdity of killing increasingly large numbers of ocean predators, and thus further upsetting the natural balance of ocean wildlife, because we have destroyed so many wild salmon runs that we have to rely on farmed fish? Does ANY part of this scenario make sense?

Meanwhile, despite mountains of science, the federal government continues to resist efforts to remove the unnecessary earthen dams on the lower Snake River that block more than five thousand miles of wild salmon spawning grounds – the largest, wildest, healthiest and best-protected salmon habitat in the ‘Lower 48’. In fact, the Obama administration’s first approach to salmon recovery in the Columbia and Snake Rivers embraced the Bush administration's that once argued that since the Snake River dams are in place we should think of them as being part of the river's "natural environment." Really? How much more absurd can this situation become?

Instead of building more fish farms that breed invasive species, spread disease, and devastate ocean wildlife, we should promote and restore the natural ocean environment and abandon the absurd idea that we can ignore natural processes that have evolved over millenia.

Michael Shurgott is the former chair of the Conservation Committee at The Mountaineers and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Mountaineers Foundation.

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