In the first-ever undercover investigation into a fish hatchery in the United States, an investigator from animal advocacy nonprofit Compassion Over Killing worked at Cooke Aquaculture in Bingham, Maine. This hatchery raises millions of salmon each year and supplies Martha Stewart’s True North Seafood line. The investigator documented horrific treatment of salmon, including fish being thrown, stomped on, suffocated in barrels, stuck with needles, and left to die.
For salmon at the hatchery, life begins in giant metal tanks stuffed with thousands of tiny pink eggs. The dirty conditions are perfect for fungi and parasites, which grow in clumps on many of the eggs. Some babies hatch with severe deformities, while others develop them after being handled, as one worker explains: “Spinal deformity. Happens when they’re babies in B building. If you’re too rough with them, you’ll break their back and they’ll grow back like that.”
During vaccination procedures, many salmon are not properly anesthetized and thrash as workers inject them with needles. One worker says, “Once the needle’s in them and they flop, that tears a f**king huge hole in them.” Another worker describes the psychological effects of the process:
The vaccinating stresses them out, takes its toll on them. Some of them die off. Once you vaccinate them, it takes them like a week before they start eating again.
Salmon considered unprofitable are thrown away like trash. The video shows a worker tossing a fish into a giant barrel and raising his arms in triumph. Once in the barrels, salmon are left to slowly suffocate or are crushed by the weight of other fish. One worker seems to acknowledge the brutality of this treatment. “They just suffocate,” he says. “It’s so rough. Over the years you kinda get desensitized.”
Some of the fish die from infections with parasites and fungi that thrive in the filthy environment. A worker says, “They get, like, lesions and stuff from the fungus, and it kinda eats away at them and they start bleeding from that.” The undercover investigator captured footage of salmon whose faces were partially eaten away.
The fish who manage to survive are kept in overcrowded, stressful conditions and often underfed, which can have tragic consequences. “If the fish aren’t fed enough, they’ll actually think the little pupil on the other fish is food, and they’ll come after it and they’ll peck the eye out,” one worker explains. “You happen to see some missing eyeballs, that’s the reason.”
After going through all this horror, adolescent salmon are usually transported to cages in the ocean to be fattened up for slaughter. In these cages, salmon often suffer sea lice infestations and are fed a diet that includes ingredients from wild-caught fish, who are taken from increasingly depleted oceans. And because these cages are stationary, the salmon cannot flee certain dangers. Harmful algal blooms can suffocate and kill millions of fish at a time.
Although the aquaculture industry treats these animals like unfeeling objects, fish are complex, sensitive beings, many of whom use tools and recognize themselves in mirrors and all of whom feel pain.
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