“Artifishal”: A grave commentary on aquaculture

Salmon Creative Commons/THE REVIEW
“Artifishal” foreshadows the looming threat of salmon extinction in the United States..


On the evening of Wednesday, Nov. 20 at the Trabant Theater, a screening was held of the environmentally conscious documentary titled “Artifishal.” Made by Patagonia Films and produced by Josh Murphy, Laura Wagner and Yvon Chouinard, the film highlights ecological crises that result from human intervention in the form of fish hatcheries and open net pens.

The film foreshadows the looming threat of salmon extinction in the United States. The movie opens with a quote from the famous American ecologist Aldo Leopold, author of “Sand County Almanac,” saying “There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot.”

Leopold’s words speak to the symbiotic relationship shared between humans and fish, which representatives of the Yurok Tribe explore further. The tribe is indeginous to Northwestern California, near the Klamath River, a point of interest in “Artifishal.”

Yurok Tribe Attorney Amy Cordalis speaks to the positive correlation between marine health and the mental health of her people.

“A lot of times when you’re grieving or when you’re hurting over something, you turn to drugs and alcohol,” Cordalis says. “And so, we’re seeing spikes in drug and alcohol rates. There’s an opioid crisis on the reservation right now, there’s a suicide crisis on the reservation right now.”

The declining welfare of local salmon brought about by hatcheries and net pens coincides with increasing trends of drug abuse in the Yurok Tribe.

“All of these things are connected, in part, because when you take away the river, you take away the fishery, and you take away the core component of who we are as a people,” Cordalis says. “Then, it kind of falls apart, and people start getting in trouble.”

Wille Frank III of the Nisqually Tribal Council touched on aquaculture practices and the ecological degradation that they have caused in the Northwestern U.S.

“Life diversifies in order to survive and humans do the opposite,” Frank says. “Humans simplify for convenience-sake.”

Frank’s statement reflects the gradual process of hatchery-spawned fish weakening the gene pool and survivability of larger populations. Fishery biologist Dave Hillemeier concurred, as he contributed his professional opinion on the artificial rearing of fish born in captivity.

Hillemeir said the high level of care that hatcheries give their fish leads later generations of fish to have weaker genes than those in the wild. That means that fish born in fisheries will not be as fit to survive as wild ones, he says.

“Fish are very complex critters that have evolved in mother nature for thousands of years,” Hillemeir says. “There’s things that happen in hatcheries that don’t put them through those pressures that they face out in mother nature.”

Another threat to marine health is the implementation of open-net pens, which are placed in natural bodies of water throughout U.S. waters. There are a few issues with open-net pens, however.

Seachoice.org, a website that promotes sustainable food, says that open-net pens allow waste, chemicals, parasites and disease to run free. The website also says that the pens can attract predators, which can get tangled in the nets and die.

As the film nears its conclusion, progressive legislation is introduced, aiming to return marine ecosystems to their natural order.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission projects that four hydroelectric dams in Southern Oregon and Northern California will be removed by 2020. Washington State has also voted to remove all Atlantic salmon net pens by 2022. The question remains, however, if measures such as these are too little too late.

“We’re starting to get it right after so many years of getting it wrong,” Former California Gov. Jerry Brown says.

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