American’s love salmon, yet Atlantic salmon populations are almost extinct. We each eat two pounds of salmon annually. Two pounds puts it in third place behind shrimp and canned tuna. Two-thirds of the salmon is Atlantic salmon (it’s fattier and therefore more tender and tasty- because it is farm raised). Not only do we eat a lot of salmon, but it is a high valued food. Atlantic salmon is never canned and is almost always sold fresh (87% of the time). If we like and value Atlantic salmon so much why are the wild populations barely hanging on, don’t we need more salmon to feed our appetite?
The poor state of wild Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) was not a surprise to me. But before reading Who’s eating Atlantic salmon, I had not thought about it. I knew that we eat wild Alaskan salmon (which is five different species of Pacific salmon) and since we eat “wild Alaskan” we must eat “farmed Atlantic”. But I did not know that the reason we don’t eat “wild Atlantic” is because there are not any.
At first I was morally outraged. If this species is so important to us than the least we could do is take care of its natural environment and wild cousins. However, the more I think about it the more I realize that having an endangered or extinct wild population is one of the requirements for a species to become an integral part of human society.
All of our pets, work, and food animals were once wild before centuries of domestication. Now, there are very few if any wild horses, dogs or cats. The same holds true for cattle, sheep, pigs, goats, chickens and turkeys. Yes there are some wild turkeys and wild boar but their numbers are at all-time lows.
Most people could not imagine the world without these animals or at least the by-products of these animals; yet they only exist in captivity. The answer is that we are selfish but also that we like consistency and progress that the environment cannot provide. We find a species that is relatively tame and domesticate it. For pets and work animals we breed them to be friendlier and more docile. Livestock need to be tame but also grow quickly and have lots of offspring. We want to control which genes are passed on, therefore making more individuals that are better and cheaper than their wild counterparts.
That explains why we domestic animals, but not why domesticated species no longer of wild populations as well. I think that these animals (especially livestock) were over hunted in the wild because of the benefits they offered people. So their numbers took a hit. In addition, the animals that have been domesticated for the longest are the animals that lived nearest to human populations. This translates to substantial habitat loss to make room for the growing human populations in these areas.
People are not actively attacking these wild populations. Communities are expanding and are no longer dependent of the wildlife of the region because they can import the food and goods they need. So, the wild animals get displaced and their numbers drop. The domesticated animals offer a more stable food supply. And there are still wild boars and turkeys because they still serve a purposed. Outdoorsmen still want to hunt these animals.
Rationally, if my logic is right it makes sense. But emotionally I am still bothered. It seems like if we benefit so much from a species we should help the wild ones survive. We are taking so much from them.