They sometimes call us the King of Fish, but the nickname must have been given a long time ago, because there is nothing regal or even distinguished about Atlantic salmon today. Nowadays, they might as well call us peasants or beggars or worse.
The truth is that we do not even deserve the name salmon. Our ancestors would not recognize us; and if they did, they would turn away in grief and horror.
Because the King of Fish that once darted and splashed up and down the rivers of Western Europe and North America, the mighty salmon that once migrated hundreds of miles to roam and feed in the North Atlantic, the Norwegian Sea, the Arctic Ocean—this fish now “exists” in pens or cages or nets along the coasts. (Very few “wild” or real Atlantic salmon remain.)
You see, we are now farmed. Aquaculture they call it, a commercial enterprise for breeding, growing, and harvesting salmon—the sole purpose of which is human consumption. We salmon, according to this view, are nothing in and of ourselves; we exist only for people to eat, to use, to exploit.
In our cramped, overcrowded farms they feed us pellets of fishmeal with a dose of synthetic astaxanthin or canthaxanthin (carotenes) to restore our appetizing pink or reddish “salmon” color. Without these dyes, the artificial farm diet would leave us grayish or off-white, which is unappealing to consumers.
What’s ahead? Well, they say the salmon farms are getting better, cleaner; and this means less disease and fewer parasites, which now require pesticides and antibiotics to overcome. Also, the United States Food and Drug Administration might soon approve genetically engineered salmon, whatever that means.
But while the thought of better farms and GE salmon may excite some people, it only deepens the despair of a true Atlantic salmon, the King of Fish.
May the Great Spirit above and below and all around us, the Great Spirit who traced the rivers and carved out the oceans and filled them with glistening water—may this Great Spirit forgive my final act.