Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Today I went on a "field trip" to a fish hatchery. I put field trip in quotes because when most people think of field trips they think happy thoughts, good times, great memories. That's not how it went today.

We were there to learn how to spawn steelhead which are then raised in the hatchery and released for sport fishing. The process goes like this: First the females are put into a tub with electrodes. Electricity is applied until they are unconscious. They are then lifted out of the water and an 18 gauge needle is stuck into their abdomen that is attached to a pressurized airline. The abdomen is filled with air which forces the eggs out. The eggs are caught in a bread loaf pan on a table. The unconscious fish is tossed back into the water. Next a male is removed from the water. He is clubbed, in theory, to death on the floor then the sperm is milked out of him. His body is thrown out the window into a pile on the ground.

I refused to participate. The instructor, disappointed and possibly angry, said "you're going to have to kill something sometime." I rolled my eyes. I stepped outside to avoid ridicule and realized that many of the male fish lying on the ground were still alive. I told one of the hatchery workers and he came out and half-heartedly clubbed one again. It was still moving. While it may have just been postmortem nerve reflexes, it still unsettled me so I spent the next hour cutting the heads off the fish as they were tossed out the window to ensure they were dead rather than have them suffocate to death. The knife they gave me was dull and it took all my strength to cut through.

So, honestly, I don't know if I killed anything today but it still felt as bad, if not worse, than any euthanasia I've ever performed.