Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Mess with perfection ... at your own risk

Some things are perfect left just like they are. No improvement necessary.

My Scott 3-weight 'glass rod, for instance. It's the perfect small-stream brookie-buster. PBR just out of the ice after a hot day on the water. Crunchy Cheetos. Jessica Alba.

And, of course, salmon.

Well, maybe not, if you believe the uber-capitalists at AquaBounty. Apparently, it takes Atlantic salmon too damn long to reach a harvestable length in the countless net-pen fish farms floating in the ocean off the coasts of both Americas. So they've managed to "manufacture" the perfect salmon–a hybrid between the Altantic and chinook (king) salmon, juiced up with a gene from the ocean pout that allows the fish to continue growing even in the coldest water conditions.

Never mind the problems associated with ocean-borne net pens (thanks to this conscientious industry, we now have Atlantic salmon running up coastal streams in the Northwest and spawning alongside–or with–native Pacific salmon, and a sea lice infestation never before seen. Now we have to deal with some laboratory creation swimming alongside our irreplaceable wild salmon. Of course, in a recent article in Trout magazine, AquaBounty claims the genetically modified, hybrid freakfish likely wouldn't escape into the wild, and that, if it did, it wouldn't matter, because they're only "manufacturing" sterile females.

Only Michael Crichton could dream up a better reality.

Trouble is, if we start "solving" problems with our ocean fisheries by simply dreaming up test-tube replacements to the real thing, we'll soon lose focus on the problems themselves. And we all know that everything trickles up from the water when it comes to environmental integrity. We lose touch with the idea that wild salmon are the perfect fish and superior and preferable to farm-raised, dye-added, genetically enhanced replacements, and soon, we'll be buying into the idea of a huge gold mine in the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed that could trash the greatest wild salmon run on the planet. Oh ... wait.

Messing with perfection will do that to you. And here's the kicker. Trout are next on the list for AquaBounty's mad scientists, according to the Trout piece.

Already, most folks across the country who eat trout are eating farm-raised hybrids–usually some mishmash of rainbow trout subspecies bred to particular fish farms. I suppose the logic to further compromising the genetics of these fish would be to encourage faster growth rates and a quicker return on the investment for the grower.

But trout? Talk about perfection.

Evolving in some of the most austere environments on earth, and now, thanks to mankind's acute desire to tangle with these fish with a hook and line, occupants of every continent save for Antarctica, trout might be the perfect fish. To many of us, that's not even a question.

Many of us chase trout for the sheer joy of it. Others for food or for the fellowship that accompanies angling. Still others cast over trout in cold, clean waters for the unmatched pleasure of touching a life force so strong and so pure that doing so is necessary for the soul. That's perfection.

No thanks, AquaBounty. We like our wild things wild. We like our salmon left alone to migrate, to nourish. And we like our trout ... perfect.

Hands off.


  1. I just got my issue of Trout and saw the article. They should leave well enough alone.
    Let nature bring the two together.

  2. Genesis 1:21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

    Regardless of whether your leanings are toward creation or evolution I think this is one thing both camps can agree on. Perfection already achieved should be left alone.

  3. Chris you had me hooked when you mentioned the Scott 3 wt. glass.

  4. Cofisher... you're a cheap date ;-)

  5. OK, this just got weird. ;)

    While I agree with everything you've said, I do want to point out that there have been some success stories from cross-breeding things. Dogs, for example. And Hybrid Bass.

    But it doesn't sound like this is a good idea for the salmon, the fishery or fishermen. Or the natural way of things.

  6. Owl... good point on the dogs issue... but keep in mind that dogs have been domesticated for a good thousand years, maybe longer, and we still have viable populations of wild dogs on every continent, even if their numbers are significantly lower than they once were. As for hybrid bass, I suppose that was the "natural order of things," particularly in the South and East when we started damming every river and creating reservoirs and impoundments for water supply, lumber delivery and agriculture. The next order of business was to put something in those water bodies guys like you and me could catch.

    And, keep in mind that hybrid trout aren't unusual anymore, even in the wild. But they are "unnatural." Here in the West, where "cutbows" swim, they're here only because at some point in our efforts to make things right, we planted fertile rainbow trout from California and the far Northwest atop our native cutthroats. Today, keeping the genetic integrity of cutthroats intact is hugely important.

    And, just a few months back, i spent a day catching tiger trout–a brook trout-brown trout hybrid that would never have come to be if we hadn't introduced brown trout the United States from Europe, and brook trout the West from Appalachia.

    That's all generally beside the point. We're now talking about "creating" a new fish altogether, not just hybridizing two fish to make a "new" one.

    What we're talking about with genetically modified salmon actually puts native wild stocks at risk in their natural habitat. Additionally, we're talking about doing this for no other reason than for some aquaculture business to make a buck–damn the rest of the economy that survives on commercial and recreational fisheries for their living.

    And, as Mark said, "Perfection already achieved should be left alone."

    I mean, we're talking about hybridizing two salmon subspecies and throwing in a gene from the ocean pout. A new critter altogether, like a sea monkey with protein value.

    The solution? Next time you order salmon at a restaurant ask your server one important question: Is this wild salmon? If it's not, have the steak. Happy eating...

  7. Nice post. Interesting stuff. Thanks for sharing.