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All Hail the Glorious Frankenfish!

There are times when people who have no idea what they’re talking about can really be infuriating. Then, there are other times when their overblown level of ill-placed self-confidence, and the astronomic scale of their own ignorance combines in such a way that it actually turns into comic relief.

Case in point – the latest boil on the behind of the internet, The Northern Right blog (which is so thin on intelligent commentary you can actually see through it) has given a platform to one Mr. Alex Gimarc. Mr. Gimarc is not effusing about the usual right wing talking points like oil company giveaways, or denying rights to the LGBT community, or abolishing social security. He is, instead, standing up for animal rights – specifically the rights of the laboratory-created Frankenfish.

We are not sure exactly where Mr. Gimarc’s love of the otherwise universally loathed Frankenfish came from, but apparently, it is a deep and passionate relationship that has him using a whole bunch of words in a row, in a vain attempt to convince Alaskans that it’s a really super good awesome idea to breed these hybrid creatures. Wild Alaska salmon, according to Gimarc are simply holding us down from the future of genetically engineered animal meat.

The Frankenfish (for those of you who are not familiar with the unholy, manmade creation) is a genetically modified hybrid of a salmon and an eel, with a bunch of added growth hormones. It’s about as awesome as it sounds. But before you enchant the guests at your next dinner party with that perennial favorite “genetically engineered Atlantic salmon/eel hybrid dip,” ponder for a moment the implications of this fish.

~The Frankenfish (back) and a real fish (front)

Americans already consume vast quantities of genetically modified crops, which other countries don’t even permit on their dinner tables. You probably consume them every day, but the FDA has decided that nobody has to tell you that. So, we happily eat our corn chips, and our garden burgers with nary a thought to the fact that foods created by nature, that our species has been eating for thousands of years just weren’t good enough for Monsanto. Improving nature, and tinkering around with DNA… what could go wrong, right?

But, never before has the government allowed genetically modified animals to grace our dinner plates. Remember a few years ago when the right got their knickers in a knot over evil scientists on the left who wanted to mess around with stem cells, which would undoubtedly lead to moral decay and the eventual creation of … “human-animal hybrids?” The ethics of gene splicing was all the rage on the right. Don’t mess with God’s creation, you heathen scientists! Now, according to Mr. Gimarc that’s just fine, as long as the animals you’re hybridizing aren’t of the homo sapien variety, and as long as you’re going to ingest them.

In addition to the un-appetizing thought of dining on “genetically engineered salmon-eel hybrid almondine, with added growth hormones” is something that should alarm all Alaskans. The pride and joy of Alaska’s renewable resources is our salmon. We fish for it commercially, for recreation and subsistence. We can it, we smoke it, we filet it. We throw it on the barbeque, make burgers out of it, turn it into jerky, or pop it in the oven. We pan fry it, and mix it in with scrambled eggs, we make chowder, and croquettes. We catch it on the end of a line, in hip waders, from boats, and with big nets and small. We teach our kids how to fish for it, we travel vast distances for it, we engage in combat fishing to get it. It is part of Alaska’s cultural heritage, and has been for 10,000 years. The decaying salmon that die after spawning, return to the streams and the earth and nourish everything from the tiniest aquatic critters, to grizzly bears, to the huge ancient trees of the Tongass. The Yup’ik work for salmon, translated into English is “food.” If the old saying “You are what you eat” holds true, Alaskans – humans, bears, eagles, wolves and trees – have wild salmon in their souls.

Mr. Gimarc tells us that it’s now time to turn in that soul for a brand new genetically engineered salmon-eel hybrid one. With added growth hormones. Alaskans are lining up to take him up on his offer. Not.

So what happens if the Frankenfish does manage to swim out of the lab and in to the ecosystem? We already know that farmed “actual” salmon pose grave risks to wild fisheries. The spread of disease, and interbreeding with wild stocks means that Alaska’s red gold is already under threat from malevolent intruders. The genetic code of a wild salmon is a delicate blueprint for perfection. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Those gardeners who have seen the advent of genetically engineered crops have started seed banks, and trade heirloom flowers, fruits and vegetables to keep the lines going. But what of fishermen? We can’t really nurture wild salmon in the bathtub and trade them with our friends to keep the line going. Once the Frankenfish is “out there” there is no reeling it in, and no controlling what the outcome will be for our fishing industry, our marine and terrestrial ecosystems, our health, and a host of other things we can’t even know.

Now, mind you, this isn’t a political issue in Alaska. Republican Congressman Don Young, Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, and Democratic Senator Mark Begich are all extremely opposed to the Frankenfish. Getting the entire delegation to speak forcefully against the same issue doesn’t happen any day.

But Mr. Gimarc, who has retired from the military and has been “writing interesting articles online since 1997” has lots of insightful and astute reasons why we should throw our wild salmon under the bus. After all, he is a self-described expert in science. And economics. And technology. And environmental issues. And energy issues. And military affairs. And making himself look like a ridiculous asshat. (OK, that last one was mine). He’s a regular Renaissance Man of making stuff up.

So, let’s see what he has to say. I’ll skim, so you don’t have to.

    • The Alaska congressional delegation is about to destroy a way of selling more salmon “here in the United States.”

That would depend on what your definition of “salmon” is, and it would also be excluding Alaska, of course.

    • Bad, bad Lisa Murkowski and all of Alaska’s commercial fishermen are pressuring the FDA to reject the Frankenfish.

Yes, they are. Why do you think commercial salmon fisherman might protest the Frankenfish? Because it is bad for them. And if it is bad for Alaskan fishermen, it is bad for Alaska.

    • Environmentalists complain about genetic modification, but they seem to have no problem with modifying plants and animals via selective breeding. Genetic modification is kind of just like selective breeding only it’s “quicker” and “at the cellular level.”

It’s strange that a science expert doesn’t know that genetic engineering, and selective breeding are exactly the same thing, only completely different. If salmon and eel were destined to be a couple, it would have already happened. Try putting two of them in a tank, play a little Barry White, and see how long it would take them to find each other attractive. And even if they did, different species don’t create offspring with each other, Mr. Gimarc. That’s why we call them “different species.” Try creating human-animal hybrids by “selective breeding” and see how that turns out. Wait. Don’t.

    • If the Congressional delegation has their way, the United States will not be competitive in the worldwide marketplace for salmon.

No. Actually, we will not be competitive in the worldwide marketplace for genetically engineered salmon-eel hybrid. Because we’ll still have wild Alaska salmon. But nobody wants THAT, according to our observationally challenged friend at The Northern Right.

    • “Mushers also engage in selective breeding of the dogs that pull their sleds and race. Those that do not measure up are culled – removed from the gene pool. Why does it matter if this is done pre-conception to animals at the cellular level or after birth?”

I know. Let’s breed a really awesome sled dog. It’ll be fast, and strong, and can go for long distances while staying hydrated. First, get a cage. Then get a husky, a polar bear, and a camel, put them all in there, and let the lovemaking begin!… Oh, crap. Someone get the key, quick! Run, camel, run!

There’s that pesky difference between selective breeding and genetic engineering again. One can be done naturally if it can be done at all, and the other one requires messing around with the genetic code of living things to turn them into things that nature would never have – like Alex Gimarc’s winning Iditarod team of the future with his giant shaggy white lead dog with four inch claws and a hump.

    • “Despite what the commercial opposition to genetically modified salmon might believe, this is not about science. Rather it is about basic economics.”

Well, it’s certainly not about fisheries science. And it certainly is about allowing huge corporations to grow their own fishlike creatures for the masses to consume while hardworking Alaska fishermen get replaced by guys in lab coats.

    • “The Alaska congressional delegation needs to get out of the way and allow the marketplace to operate. Otherwise, the marketplace operated by the rest of the world will steamroll over the commercial fisheries here in Alaska by providing a better product, at a better price, at the same or better quality, and do it 365 days a year – the last being something the commercial fisheries targeting wild fish are by definition unable to do.”

Any Alaskan who has ever traveled outside and ordered salmon off a menu can tell you that there is nothing like our own wild Chinooks, and sockeyes, and cohos. Trying to sell Alaskans on your fish tale about how the Frankenfish is a “better product” of “better quality” than a Copper River Red, is like telling an Alaskan coffee drinker that Sanka crystals are totally better than Raven’s Brew French Roast Ebony Pearls. Good luck with that.

And even if you let those “free markets” operate unfettered by common sense, what happens when people decide they don’t want the Frankenfish anymore?

AquaBounty tells us not to worry because the Frankenfish will be engineered to be all female and all sterile, though a small percentage might be able to breed. They would be farmed and bred in confined pools where the potential for escape would be pretty low. Some might breed, and some could escape, but… you know. Whatever.

The company also says that the increase in the breeding of engineered salmon could help “relieve endangered wild salmon populations.” What does that mean? Well, not as many people would be buying wild salmon. And of course, when the demand goes down, so does the price. Bad for fishermen. But once wild populations are contaminated with rogue Frankenfish, it won’t matter anyway, because “wild salmon” in all their genetic glory won’t exist anyway. It’ll just be different varieties of AquaBounty genetically engineered salmon-eel hybrids, swimming free. Problem solved.

And just for good measure, AquaBounty says that the new genetically modified salmon-eel hybrid with added growth hormones doesn’t need to be labeled as such. “The label could even be misleading because it implies a difference that doesn’t exist,” they say. Because, their argument seems to be that the two fish are really basically the same thing, except for the genetically modified salmon-eel hybrid with added hormones part.

Thanks but no thanks on that fish to nowhere. But thanks indeed for the laughs Mr. Gimarc, and please Northern Right, do keep publishing more of the same. Your excellent journalistic standards, and top-notch opinion writers shall reveal you for what you are. But all hope is not lost. Perhaps you can be genetically modified with the brain of a wild salmon. It might improve your capacity for persuasive writing and deep intellectual reasoning. It certainly won’t make it worse.

~Senator Mark Begich passes out “No Frankenfish” buttons to his Senate colleagues on Halloween.

~Senator Lisa Murkowski addresses the Senate about Frankenfish



15 Responses to “All Hail the Glorious Frankenfish!”
  1. Dr. Ian Malcom says:

    AquaBounty tells us not to worry because the Frankenfish will be engineered to be all female and all sterile, though a small percentage might be able to breed. They would be farmed and bred in confined pools where the potential for escape would be pretty low. Some might breed, and some could escape, but… you know. Whatever.

    *Siiiiiigh* Clearly, the people at AquaBounty either A) need to see Jurassic Park or B) need to have it pointed out to them that the lesson of Jurassic Park was NOT “Just because you can do something, you should!”.

    Seriously, what is wrong with these people?

  2. Krubozumo Nyankoye says:

    I don’t see any reference or citation specific to what this GMO is supposedly like. Why is that?

  3. rugger9 says:

    No, the blogger is saying that this frankenfish shouldn’t be called salmon or put in free contact with the wild ones. I agree with that idea.

    In the other hand, once the Pebble Mine finishes trashing Bristol Bay [and we know CZ Parnell will find a way to do it, too much $$$ in it for him], maybe these are the ones who can survive. I’m sure there are tailing pools in the lower 48 that can be used to check out the hypothesis.

  4. John says:

    No difference between wild salmon and “salmon/eel hybrid with added growth hormones?” Then why are they going to all the trouble to create it if is no different? Of course there is a difference. It should be labeled as what it is and then let the free market decide which gets sold, and at what price. Growth hormones in our milk and beef have already done lots of damage to our health. We don’t need extra in our salmon. And I ate farmed salmon once. Now, when I am on the east coast, I always ask if it is wild or farmed when I see salmon on the menu. I guess now I will have to ask whether it is wild salmon or a salmon/eel hybrid with added growth hormone.

  5. Celia Harrison says:

    Does Alex Gimarc understand why breeding a sled dog with a wolf is illegal? Not everyone just blindly eats food without thinking. I only eat organic because the ‘Natural” label is mainly a gimmick. I read the label on everything. I also bitch to the managers of the two grocery stores where I live and I am sure by now that is what they call me. I don’t eat fast food or at any restaurant where I live because none of them have organic food of any kind. I read research about nutrition, heart disease etc. That is why I know that most of what we have been told the last three decades is BS. It is not fat that causes heart disease or cardiovascular disease, it is sugar, regular sugar is bad enought, but fructose corn syrup is now in everything.The key to stopping Frankenfish and other unhealthy food is to not buy it. If they can’t sell the crap it will disappear. The problem is that in this country and certainly in Alaska people don’t read and believe propaganda. They think The Ministry of Food Propaganda…er….the USDA is telling them the truth, but they don’t because their main purpose is to promote corporations.

  6. E of Anc P says:

    I can’t believe we are going through this again. When the idea first came up we wrote our Congressional Delegates, FDA, etc. As 40 plus years in Alaska, and involved in the fisheries on commercial and personal side, we have gone through those suggesting Alaska get into “fish farming”. As you wrote above, the dangers to the wild salmon are real from contamination, disease, etc. They obviously haven’t looked into the problems other countries have had with their “fish farms.” Poultry is now having to label “hormone free” on their product. What are these “supposedly” scientists thinking. Many families are trying to go “organic” as healthy, and they want to put a “Frankenfish” on our tables? We have been so lucky to have our children grow up on healthly wild salmon, caribou, moose, etc.

    It seems just having our Congressional Delegation in agreement doesn’t help. How can they even label it as fish. Do we need to let our delegation know that we continue to support their actions against allowing this “Frankenfish?”

  7. zyxomma says:

    In pursuit of maintaining vibrant health, I pay a lot more for my food than the average American. That’s because the only way to avoid genetically modified frankenfoods is to buy only 100% organic (not necessarily USDA certified organic, because many of the organic farmers I know haven’t got ten grand (yes, that’s $10,000) to spend on a label). I’m wary when I eat in restaurants. I love Asian food, for example, but I don’t want my veggies sauteed in oil from genetically modified soybeans or pesticide-drenched cottonseed, I won’t eat tofu made from Roundup-ready soybeans, etc. Because of this, unless I’m eating at home or at an organic restaurant, I can’t trust the food on my plate. I’ve let both of my Senators know that I support the labeling of all GM food, and they should, too.

    Unlike my senators, I’m an educator/counselor in holistic health. The asthma, diabetes, bronchitis, obesity, and other chronic conditions I’m seeing these days don’t add up to a good trend, and their increase just happens to coincide with the widespread penetration of (unlabeled) GMO food into the marketplace. Genetic modification CAUSES the creation of novel proteins, all of which are potential allergens at best, and endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, and teratogens at worst. What shocks me the most is that the bible beaters aren’t all over this. Why aren’t they screaming about playing havoc with the creator’s food? Why are they attacking women’s rights, and not Monsanto?

    Salmoneelaquabounteous is nothing I’d swallow even if I did eat flesh. Health and peace.

  8. mike from iowa says:

    Someone needs to sequence nutjob DNA and remove the quackery genes. Then nutters would migrate spring and fall and dabble in shallow ponds not politics. When they become a messy nuisance you could shoot and eat them. Value added,genetically altered Franken-dumbasses. It’s what’s for dinner!

  9. Alaska Pi says:

    Mr Gimarc has a long history here with the old Alaska Standard and the like- he’s a doof .A dangerous doof, so stay on him, AKM. He’s a scienTISTIC thinker, not a scientific one- in the way Ortegay Gasset defined it all.

    GE fish certification , frankenfish specifically, is lodged in the veterinary medicine portion of the FDA, which pretty much stretches any meaningful notion of veterinary and weighted towards a bery narrow review. Not good on any front, in any way..
    Get a doof like Gimarc stirring up the lines between GM and selective breeding and the like and confusing the issues and poof- more mess, more dumbity . Good catch on the wierd stem cell attitude v GM attitude. will probably skim right over the heads of those inclined to think humans are exempt from such things because they are god’s chosen masters of the earth type stuff- but good catch nonetheless.

  10. ~Sil in Corea says:

    We need to let all our congresscritters know that lab-fish just won’t do. Anything genetically engineered should, and must, be labeled as such!!! Get the labels on corn and soy NOW. They are too basic to our food system as it is!

  11. Wallflower says:

    He’s right about one thing; it’s got nothing to do with science. Probably the best thing to do to “ease the stress” on the Alaska wild salmon is to protect its environment. What does Mr I-Write-Interesting-Articles think about that concept?

  12. bonefish says:

    ““The label could even be misleading because it implies a difference that doesn’t exist,” they say.” Salmon/eel? Natural wild salmon? No difference? WHAT?

  13. UgaVic says:

    I am so upset I can’t even write. This is just stupid on SO many levels. The next step seems to be for each state to demand ALL genetically modified food be labeled so consumers can choose.

    IF we can accomplish that the brain dead people like this blogger can be the consumers and the rest of us who know better can purchase healthy sustainable food!!

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