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'We're the Bad Guy': Inside the Shocking New Film About Wild Fish
Written by <a href="index.php?option=com_comprofiler&task=userProfile&user=23323"><span class="small">Tom McCarthy, Guardian UK</span></a>   
Wednesday, 08 May 2019 13:07

McCarthy writes: "In Artifishal, an eye-opening new documentary, we see the damaging effect that humanity has had on the wild fish population, driving them closer to extinction."

Artifishal encourages us to imagine the restoration of wild waterways - and, it is hoped, the fish and habitats they once hosted. (photo: Ben Moon)
Artifishal encourages us to imagine the restoration of wild waterways - and, it is hoped, the fish and habitats they once hosted. (photo: Ben Moon)

'We're the Bad Guy': Inside the Shocking New Film About Wild Fish

By Tom McCarthy, Guardian UK

08 May 19

In Artifishal, an eye-opening new documentary, we see the damaging effect that humanity has had on the wild fish population, driving them closer to extinction

rtifishal, a new documentary about salmon, might, in less capable hands, have been a tiresome screed, another damning diary of how humans have despoiled the Earth.

In salmon’s case, we have interrupted one of the most dramatic cycles of nature, the wild fish’s journey from the rivers where they spawn to the oceans where they grow and back again. The result is that fish have died, species that eat them have died, communities that depend on them have faded, the food supply has been polluted and a lot of tax dollars have been wasted.

Artifishal, directed by Josh “Bones” Murphy and produced by Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia, does tell that story. But that story is only the embers of something more, which the film steadily exhales over, oxygenates and causes to flame up.

In an inspired gambit, Artifishal takes a swerve into the metaphyscial, framing the salmon emergency as a question about the human soul, about what it needs – about what we need – to survive. The contention of the film-makers is that while it may be human nature to seek dominion and control over the rest of nature, the very thing we need to survive is precisely that which defies our control, that thing which, when we seek to subjugate it, instead either slips through our nets, or is caught and dies.

If we drive the wild to extinction, the film suggests, we will bring our own that much closer.

“I really hope the film leaves the viewer with this disquieting question, which is, have we reached the end of wild?” said Murphy in a phone conversation near the end of a tour to promote the movie, which debuted at the Tribeca film festival after a tour of screenings in Patagonia stores.

“At the outset we kept wondering if we would find a bad guy. And we didn’t. In fact, I kept feeling that the force of antagonism was us – we’re the bad guy. Because humans just are always looking out for themselves.”

In exploring those themes, Artifishal becomes more than a movie about fish, or even about conservation. It’s a movie about what it means to be a creature uniquely capable of such soaring achievements of ingenuity and, at the same time, such aggressive and lethal idiocy.

Over the decades, we have interrupted salmon by draining rivers, damming rivers, settling riverbanks, overfishing streams and injecting billions of genetically inferior fish into the wild population.

We have done it, and continue to do it, for what seem like good reasons: dams provide power, fish provide food, and on a crowded planet, change is a reality. Plus, through the genius of human engineering, we have told ourselves, we are not really hurting the fish, or anything else: on some rivers, fish have been physically transported around dams so that they may pursue their genetic imperative to spawn; government-run hatcheries ensure that fish populations remain plentiful for anglers; and open-water net-pen fish farms fill the gap in demand for supermarket salmon.

Those justifications turn out to be every bit as self-serving and false as the casual observer of human nature would automatically expect them to be. Breeding fish in tanks does not create the same fish as those bred in streams; launching fish over dams still interrupts the breeding cycle; and a lot of the fish inside those net pens, as the film gruesomely illustrates, are visibly sick to the point of making the viewer wonder how we can eat this stuff.

The film encourages us to imagine the restoration of wild waterways – and, it is hoped, the fish they once hosted, and the networks of plant, animal and human life that used to center on wild salmon, including Native American communities.

“Wilding does have great uncertainty to it,” says marine biologist Anne Shaffer in the film. “That’s how wild works. Wild is scary, but it’s a really important place in people’s soul.”

“You find out how much money we spend, the genetic implications, the community effects for people like the Yurok,” said Murphy, referring to the Native Americans who inhabit the Klamath River basin in northern California and southern Oregon. “Then that pile of information becomes additive towards this real understanding, that we have completely forgotten the value of wild in our rush to commoditize this animal.”

If you can’t catch Artifishal on its current tour of film festivals and in-store screenings, you can host a viewing yourself. It is the latest in a series of environmental initiatives mounted by Patagonia, which in 2017 organized efforts to protect the Bears Ears national monument in Utah and then sued the federal government over it.

In 2021, the largest river restoration effort in history is planned, with the removal of four hydroelectric dams built between 1911 and 1962 on the Klamath River. Removing the dams will dump millions of cubic yards of sediment downstream and destroy reservoirs that have been used for recreation while breeding toxic algae. Removing the dams will also open about 400 miles of habitat to the fish.

Nobody knows what will happen next.

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-1 # DongiC 2019-05-09 06:59
Shamanism is sort of a religious movement that is thousands of years old. It consists of spiritual journeys to other worlds/dimensio ns where one seeks and finds guardian animals who help us cope with the many difficulties of life. The central person is known as the shaman and it is he or she who acts as guide and helper and healer. Shamans are very dedicated people usually working for free and willing to take on very difficult cases like cancer and severe burns. They even perform exorcisms which are quite dangerous to everyone concerned. They have a deep respect for the natural order and often represent the finest qualities among indigenous peoples. They are real champions of the environment and the animals thereof, often being found in the center of ecological movements. Interestingly enough, if you have a spirit or ghost in your house, and it happens more than you realize, the shaman is the one to find. His/her results in removing these spirits are exceptional. It is called psychopomp work among the shamans

I have been a practicing shaman for some thirty years now. It is the joy of my life. Nothing, but nothing, matches the feelings of fixing a damaged ankle or knee or rotator cuff, or a cancer condition or an audial or visual problem. Removing a trapped spirit is like walking through paradise with an angel at your side. This is why I have spent so much time at the holocaust sites in Europe freeing souls who were stuck there trapped by a sudden death
+2 # DongiC 2019-05-09 07:16
for which they had no preparation. I have visited the battlefields of many wars, American Civil War, World War I and II, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Buddhist nuns and priests were most respectful when they learned that an American Shaman was there to help the deceased on their spiritual journey.

Shamans are real champions of the environment. They sense the value of "wilding" and the important part that wild animals play in our spiritual and physical health. They know also that profits can be a trap if pursued without limit or moderation. The way the Republicans seek wealth - without reason or care for the destruction they wring. This is why I am so critical of our president. He doesn't care who or what he destroys or how he covers it up. He is a menace to the planet and all its manifest life forms. Opposing him and his rabid followers is fighting the good fight for nature and humanity. I am proud to be a part of this battle.
+7 # wrknight 2019-05-09 07:29
One only has to read the latest UN report on damage to the planet caused by humans and the accelerating pace of extinction for so many species to know that, unless something is done soon, life on earth, as we know it, is f'ked.

The most disturbing thing about this is that the likelihood of what's needed being done soon is about the same as a snowball's chance of surviving in hell.

The problem is that the people in control don't give a shit and the victims of their avarice have no control.
+6 # Kootenay Coyote 2019-05-09 08:39
There are similar problems just north in British Columbia, compounded by the threats to Indigenous fisheries, a vital economic & cultural resource. Indigenous people fished for millennia without damaging wild stocks. Net Pen farming is a first-generatio n, primitive technology that raises invasive Atlantic salmon, risks genetic contamination of Pacific salmon, is vulnerable to storms & tsunamis, & pollutes the seabed below the net & nurtures parasites, esp. Sea-lice that attack & imperil all salmon. All of this the more so where net farms are situated on wild fish migration routes. Onshore tank-based farms would largely avoid these problems, but they cost a little more to install….
+7 # The Eternal Optimist 2019-05-09 09:04
We are a part of Nature, not separate from it. Our great myths of the Garden of Eden and the Prodigal Son tell of our stunning mistake when, God knows why, we began acting against rather than in accordance with God's will, and contrary to the interests of all forms of life on our planet. The other life forms have suffered terribly at our hands as we've treated them like objects to be used for our selfish interests rather than the living creatures they are; but without realizing it we have been shooting ourselves in the foot. Now the results of our behavior are crashing down on all our heads, with the very continuance of life as we know it here actually in doubt.

It's time to change our ways. Now we must care about our fellow creatures as well as ourselves (and care for them, which is what the Bible meant when it said we were to have "dominion over" them; it means to have responsibility for them, not to dominate them). We must behave in ways that benefit ALL of us. If we really care at all about anything.
+4 # chrisconno 2019-05-09 10:49
The thinking that we seemed to always have had is that we are gods and nature is here for our pleasure and profit. It is wholly sorrowful that we can not recognize our destructive self-aggrandize ment. We are sh*tting in our own nest on a massive scale and all will soon or eventually pay with our lives. Too bad all the other life of the planet will pay too.
0 # RLF 2019-06-10 10:45
Too many hungry mouths on this planet and agriculture and fishing all based on fossil fuels. Until we get the population down, there is no hope for this planet, and there is only one way that that has been historically done. Boom!