Sustainable Fishing? Tell that to the Orcas

By: Dave Swartz



A few weeks ago I had the chance to visit the San Juan Islands of Washington State. These islands are known for their natural beauty, blue ocean waters, rolling country hills, and of course the local Orca whale population. On a visit to Lime Kiln Point Whale Watch Park, the only land based whale watching park in the country, I had a chance and to stop and hear one of the marine biologists speak about the current state of the local Orca population. I learned quite a few interesting facts such as the matriarch of the Puget Sound J pod being an estimated 105 years old.

I also learned about the resident pods and the transient pods and how each pod had their own unique culture. For instance, the transient pods that venture through the area from time to time not only feed on salmon but also other marine life such as seals. However, the resident pods feed exclusively on Chinook salmon. Unfortunately, the numbers of Orcas in the Puget Sound are declining and scientists say the number one reason for this is due to the lack of availability of salmon.

My next question to the marine biologist was “What is causing the decline in salmon?” It turns out that the number one reason for the decline in salmon is competition with commercial fishing.

In the years since I gave up eating animals I’m not sure if I gave it much thought that I was taking food from someone that actually needs it, I always thought of the animal that was being directly consumed by humans. With beef cattle or farm pigs, I have never had the thought of “If I eat this animal, will its natural predators have nothing to eat?” I believe this is because our “natural environment” has been manipulated to a point that there are no wild species whose main food sources are farmed land animals meant for human consumption. Needless to say that is not the case with fish. This particular pod of Orcas depend on salmon for survival as it is the only food source they eat. If they don’t have enough salmon they will die. Humans in this country and many other countries have the option to go to a grocery store and choose a healthy alternative to fish. Orcas do not have that luxury. If you needed another reason to give up eating fish besides the fact that fish are extremely high in cholesterol and loaded with toxic chemicals such as mercury and over 80% of the world’s fish stocks are considered fully exploited or depleted, you now have it.

1 reply
  1. Jeremy Beckham
    Jeremy Beckham says:

    Leaving aside the orcas and the adverse health effects of eating fish, it is wrong and cruel to kill salmon – or any other fish – because these animals are sentient beings who don’t belong to us and have an interest in living their lives free from human interference.

    Even if we found a way to “sustainably” kill fish or minimize its broader ecological impact, it would still not be humane or ethical to do so. One of the ways the fishing industry has reduced by-catch, for example, is by killing larger fish like tuna with a tool called a gaff. A gaff resembles a long pickaxe, and the tool is swung into the eye or body of the fish once they are within reach, so that those specifically targeted fish can be dragged aboard. No one would think it appropriate to swing a pickaxe into the eye of a dog, yet fish are just as capable of feeling pain as a dog.

    There is a push in the environmental movement to source all salmon from aquaculture operations, and aquaculture practices are indeed on the rise. Salmon on aquaculture operations are basically raised in what can be called a fish factory farm. They are so overcrowded that the water becomes polluted and difficult for the fish to breathe. Also the filthy condition mean that sea lice proliferate, and these lice are parasitic organisms for salmon that often eat their flesh down to the bone. Salmon on overcrowded aquaculture operations also begin to cannibalize one another.

    And of course there is no semblance of making the slaughter process less hideous for fish. Their gills are slit while they are conscious and convulsing. It must be an awful experience for these fish.

    I don’t want to make cruelty “sustainable,” I want to end it


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