I’ll give the diseased fish a pass, thanks

Russell
Russell Wangersky
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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.)

 

New rules?

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.

 

Poor marketing

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 rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Canadian Food Inspection Agency, CBC

Geographic location: Salmonier River, Portugal Cove South, Nova Scotia New Brunswick

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Recent comments

  • Bill McKay
    February 05, 2013 - 19:58

    It's time to stop all fish farming in the ocean...our wild salmon stocks are under threat as well as other species like lobster, tuna, trout, etc, etc... What a crazy decision to allow diseased fish to be marketed..would we eat or sell diseased beef or chicken?... We should boycott all stores who sell these products ..hit them where it hurts!..no market no farming..it's that simple...

  • Ian
    February 05, 2013 - 14:22

    I wonder if any of the over 2 million pounds of these diseased fish that Cooke Aquaculture processed and sold have been comingled with other farmed salmon which have found their way into Loblaws shipmets or President's Choice products being sold to our federal politicians in Ottawa and various other markets across our nation. How do they know that they, too, are not chowing down on virus filled seafood???

  • David
    February 02, 2013 - 16:59

    I'll pass on farming disease. David Vancouver Island

  • Bernard Swain
    February 01, 2013 - 19:06

    Sobeys tell me they have been assured by their supplier that no salmon from Cooke's Aquaculture from the infected batch will be supplied to Sobeys. At the same time Cooke has stated they will not segregate ISA infected fish for any of their customers. Someone is being duplicitous. Who to trust? In this instance, no one. I am avoiding all farmed fish at any cost. This decision will cripple Canada's food safety credibility. This decision to allow the sale of diseased fish is money, not safety driven.

  • retiredoutportguy
    January 31, 2013 - 13:11

    I have also decided not to eat any farmed fish Salmon or otherwise. I do not believe they are fit for human consumption ie too fatty too soft textured & I'm sure they are consuming their own waste products & of late the numbers of deceased fish seem to be increasing. Enough said.

  • fussy eater
    January 30, 2013 - 21:15

    I have NO desire to knowingly eat anything that is diseased. in my opinion farming fish is admitting that you cannot or will not protect the wild fish. stock all the rivers you want with salmon but if you dont provide proper protection then someone will eventually poach the last salmon in the river, thats already been done to some rivers.

  • Pierre Neary
    January 30, 2013 - 15:10

    I'm going to take a pass as well. Thanks but no.......

  • m
    January 30, 2013 - 08:36

    And yet, people have no problem eating wild fish that have never been tested for any parasite or disease. No testing result does not mean no disease. Ignorance must truly be bliss.

  • H JEFFORD
    January 29, 2013 - 21:57

    IF FARMED SALMON Are diseased Then SALMON SHOULD SE HATCHED ONLY AND THE SMALL YOUNG SALMON SHOULD BE RELEASED INTO PROTECTED RIVERS OR BAYS AROUND THE ISLAND THAT WOULD HELP THE SALMON POPULATION INCREASE, THE SAME THING SHOULD BE DONE WITH COD FISH, I HAVE A PUBLICATION PUT OUT BY THE DEPT OF FISHERIES, FORTY PLUS YEARS AGO I GOT IT CALLED " ONE IN A MILLION" THAT TELLS OF THE SURVIVAL RATE BY CHARTS OF A COD FISH EGG AS ONE IN A MILLION THIS WAS FORTY YEARS AGO WHEN FISH WERE PLENTY. HOW LOW IS IT NOW? THE ONLY WAY TO HELP THE FISHERY TO REBUILD IT SELF IS WITH THE USE OF A FISH HATCHERY, WHERE FISH OR SALMON EGGS CAN BE HATCHED AND THE JUVENILE FISH RELEASED INTO PROTECTED COVES AND BAYS. WHERE THE SMALL BAYS AND COVES CAN BE RESTOCKED WITH JUVENILE FISH, The Survival rate may increase from one in a million to Hundreds of Thousands in a Million.

  • Eli
    January 29, 2013 - 15:12

    Russel, your comments pretty well mirror the views of Steve Smith's(?) column in the Saturday Telegram a few weeks ago. Your views are shared by Dr, David Suzuki, and if he matters me too. I think deased fish were what fuelled Dunderdale, Kennedy et al during their wild ride thru the Muskarat Falls nonsense. De musta' been pizened.

  • paulSt.John's
    January 29, 2013 - 12:05

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/story/2013/01/24/ns-isa-restaurants-salmon.html

  • JD
    January 29, 2013 - 11:48

    I worked in a chicken processing plant. You have eaten chickens that had 3 legs, 3 wings, 2 eyes on one side of it's beak and so forth

  • Bob Parker
    January 29, 2013 - 11:36

    All fish farms should be on land in pools . . . period. We must protect our food chain and the wild fish from this industry. Profits should not be driving these ridiculous and dangerous decisions.

  • wtf
    January 29, 2013 - 09:38

    This is what happens when people demand cheap food. In the long run it becomes very expensive.

  • paulSt.John's
    January 29, 2013 - 08:18

    The salmon feedlot industry is a huge threat to coastal ecosystems and wild fish. It is a matter of putting profits for a few above the interests of the many.....again.