Fish for long enough, and you’re bound to catch a salmon or trout that’s obviously sick.
I can remember one distinctly unhealthy salmon I caught near the mouth of the Salmonier River, and several different times when trout I’ve caught have clearly been unhealthy, including a few stunningly grotesque specimens caught in The Druke near Portugal Cove South (I’ll spare you the details) that have put me off ever fishing in that river again.
One thing I can tell you about all of those diseased fish: I didn’t eat them.
I’m not a fish scientist by any means. I have no idea what was wrong with them or whether through some piscine/human transmission, it could even affect me.
I find it disturbing, that’s all, just disturbing, and I think it’s a natural reaction that may be a carryover from our distant past, a kind of knowledge by experience that diseased animals are not good eating.
I think I’d have the same response to finding out that moose or caribou meat was from a diseased animal, even if there was no chance that disease could be passed on. (That’s something even the provincial government recognizes, because they will issue a replacement moose licence for hunters who shoot diseased moose.)
That’s why I find it more than a little disturbing that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is changing the rules for farmed salmon that have contracted infectious salmon anemia (ISA).
In the past, the agency has tried to eradicate the disease from fish farms. Now, the plan is to control it.
Here’s what Patricia Ouellette, a regional program officer with the CFIA, told CBC in Nova Scotia: “At first, the focus was on eradication of the disease. … We’ve shifted gears to preventing the spread of the disease and no longer consider eradication as an option.”
As part of that shifting of gears, 240,000 salmon that were found with ISA in Nova Scotia weren’t destroyed, but were allowed to be processed in New Brunswick for food.
I understand that ISA is not something that can be transmitted to humans — that’s not the issue. I think I have a legitimate revulsion for the idea that I might be sold product from diseased animals, however harmless that disease might be to me. Not only that, as a customer, I definitely want to know if the fish I’m being sold was diseased — so I can have the choice about whether I want to consume it. If you’re not going to tell me which is which, then I’ll have a hard time buying any.
Processing diseased animals is hardly a sales-builder — and is the cause of great hue and cry when it turns up in the beef, pork or poultry industry.
That’s not the only concern, though.
I’m equally concerned about the idea that nets with diseased salmon were allowed to stay in place for the final six months of a grow-out of fish that were almost ready for market.
During that time, what exactly was preventing other fish, including wild Atlantic salmon, from having contact with the fish cages or the fish waste that came from them?
After all, the CFIA’s own website points out that the disease can be spread by something as straightforward as “contaminated water.”
And not only salmon — herring, cod and brown trout are apparently susceptible to the disease.
I don’t even fish for salmon anymore. I think the wild fish are under too much strain already, and I don’t see the need to add to that strain. So this isn’t a case of me trying to protect a hobby or something.
It’s more visceral than that.
I don’t think there are many people who, given a choice, would choose to eat fillets from diseased fish.
I know I wouldn’t.
From a marketing point of view and from an animal husbandry point of view, I think this is the wrong way to go. I don’t think I’m alone on that.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.