A couple weeks ago I ate my first Pink Salmon, thanks to my dear partner who caught it for me. I filleted it, admittedly very badly, slapped it in a piece of tin foil, added some garlic, lemon, olive oil, and herbs and put it on the grill. Ten minutes later I peeked inside the steaming foil and there it was, perfectly grilled and ready to consume. I dove in very cautiously. I enjoy fish occasionally, usually at reputable eateries, but rarely cook it myself. I was practically searching for some great error, but it was quite delicious and I ate the entire thing (aside from a little shared with the household pets). I considered getting more, but would have to fight several moral dilemmas.
My apprehension about eating fish I catch is this- the more fish I kill and take out of the system, the fewer there are for me, or anyone else, to catch next time. Add that to the number of people who always take their daily limit, and on top of that add the number of fish illegally taken by poachers. Take it one step further and consider the declining state of good fisheries management in many states. What you’re left with is not a whole lot of fish to catch! Yes, I am a staunch advocate for catch and release fishing. Doubt my math? Fish a section of river that is catch and release only and see the difference. My other moral dilemma is that these fish are currently on their spawning beds and I don’t think its fair to fish for them when they are in the midst of reproducing. And in all honesty, in this situation its easier to snag them than it is to get them to actually take a fly.
Despite these things I decided to try and catch some more Pinks to eat. What changed my mind? The simple fact that we need to start supplementing our food pantry with foods that don’t cost a fortune. Food costs are just too high to make ends meet. Also, telling myself over and over that these fish, upon completion of mating, will just die anyway and I won’t be contributing to population loss by taking a few. Game on!
I set out on a Thursday morning with rod in hand, knife at my side. There were still bazillions of Pinks in the river, although many of them looking a little less appetizing than before with flesh falling off. I hit all the usual holes and found the hot spot where they were hitting consistently. I hooked and landed a nice male. I was going to keep them alive on the stringer, but he was so wild and jumpy I couldn’t get him strung up so I had to kill him right away. I took a stream-side rock and smacked him on the head. He took his last gasps and was then still. I got the rope through his gills and laid him in the cold water. I proceeded to feel like shit. I just didn’t like killing it. I have killed other animals in my life, and eaten them too, but most of that was pre-adulthood. There’s something too beautiful about most animals that I can’t personally imagine taking one’s life. I told myself again that these fish were only going to die shortly anyway, and I managed to take a nice female. Luckily my partner joined me later and contributed two more to my string, totaling four. They are now in the freezer and I’m sure I will enjoy every bite later this winter, but I won’t soon forget the feeling of taking their lives. There’s definitely something to the idea of honoring the animals we take for food, and not forgetting they are not here solely for us and our purposes.
I was lucky enough to also hook into a decent sized female Coho that day. She was beautiful and fresh and doing her thing. She was so fat I could barely lift her. I can only imagine the size of the salmon steaks she contained but I did not even consider taking her. A beast that amazing should be left alone. I put her back in her pool and wished her luck. Will I take fish for food again? Most likely Pinks again next year, but I doubt any other species. They are just too few and too beautiful. Next on the docket…grouse hunting…