PAT NEAL’S WILDLIFE: Genetically altering fish monkeys with Nature

IT WAS ANOTHER tough week in the news.

A front-page article that appeared Monday in the Peninsula Daily News revealed that the Food and Drug Administration was likely to approve a genetically engineered salmon.

This new and improved salmon would combine the growth hormones of a chinook with a genetic on/off switch of the ocean pout in a farmed Atlantic salmon that will grow twice as fast in half the time to market size.

Genetic engineering changes the DNA in an organism.

DNA is like a blueprint for life. Genes are the building blocks of DNA.

Inserting foreign genes into the DNA can give the organism more desirable qualities — or not.

As with most progress, there is a danger of unintended consequences.

Any negative side effects to genetic engineering would be irreversible once the mutated organism was loose in the environment.

We could find ourselves allergic to our poisonous food or even create a new superbacteria that was resistant to our antibiotics.

Either way, genetic engineering could threaten the very survival of humans as a species.

Mitochondrial DNA and fossil evidence indicates that modern humans originated in Africa about 200,000 years ago.

Their increasing population soon led to widespread environmental devastation.

While climate change played a role, the latest theories suggest that early humans’ discovery of the North American continent led to the extinction of the mammoths, mastodons and giant sloths about 11,000 years ago.

These Pleistocene Mega-fauna are among an estimated 135 species of mammals that went extinct shortly after being discovered by the roving bands of Stone Age hunter-gatherers.

Those were the good old days, the most stable period in human history. It was too good to last.

Around 10,000 years ago, humans began planting grain.

There was a surplus.

Men gathered in walled cities to make beer. Early man needed a decent steak with his beer.

This lead to the domestication of animals and even more environmental destruction as man sought pasture for his herds.

Overgrazing by pastoralists created deserts by eroding the topsoil.

The rediscovery of the New World by the Europeans repeated the environmental devastation of earlier millennium with much more drastic results.

The American bison was hunted into endangered species status, replaced by cattle and amber waves of grain.

The ocean became man’s last frontier.

The Pacific salmon — a fish once so plentiful they were called “the poor man’s tuna” — was fished into economic extinction throughout much of their range in fewer than 100 years.

This increased both the demand and price for salmon.

It was inevitable that man would start farming the ocean.

The first Atlantic salmon farms began in Norway in the 1960s.

They were popular until the pollution from fish waste, disease, parasites and the inevitable escape of thousands of salmon sent the fish farmers to fresh sea pastures in the New World.

Once at home in the Pacific Northwest, the fish were blamed for polluting the sea bed and giving diseases and parasites to passing native fish. They also escaped from their pens.

Now the multinational fish farmers want to start raising genetically engineered Atlantic salmon in North America because they won’t allow that sort of thing in Europe.

When these fish escape — and some probably will — they could breed with Pacific salmon and steelhead and endanger our native runs.

Our current management strategies have already made the Pacific salmon rare, threatened and endangered.

But on second thought, getting rid of any escaped Franken-fish should be no problem.

We’ll let the experts at the state Department of Fish and Wildlife study them to death — thus guaranteeing that those pesky, genetically engineered salmon will disappear in no time.

________

Pat Neal is an Olympic Peninsula fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist.”

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or e-mail at [email protected]

Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.

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