The Salmon’s Identity Crisis

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We’ve domesticated dogs, chickens, pigs and countless plants. Now we’re doing the same to wild fish. In the science magazine Nautilus, Matthew Berger writes about how cultivation is not only changing the salmon genetically, but about what cultivation means to the idea of salmon, and to humanity’s relationship with nature. Exploring evolution and the history of salmon aquaculture, Berger asks: when does this domesticated crop no longer resemble its wild ancestor, and does it matter?

But salmon have changed, and that change has been more than genetic or morphological or geographic; it’s been a change in vocabulary and perception. Domestication has created a kind of relativity, undermining what makes a salmon a salmon. This generation’s grandkids will probably know salmon as that plentiful fish raised in pens, not as a creature that has evolved to migrate thousands of miles through freshwater, saltwater, over waterfalls, and around dams.

Gross sees domesticated salmon as “a continuation of human agricultural development that began 10,000 years ago.” Today, that agricultural enterprise is touching new species and leaving its mark on not just animals in pens but the ones that remain, to whatever degree, “wild.”

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