First undercover video from inside the catfishing industry
DALLAS––Probably more fish consumers were puzzled––at first––than shocked on January 19, 2011 when Mercy for Animals released undercover video of alleged criminal animal abuse at Catfish Corner, in eastern Dallas County.
“I don’t get too many calls about inhumaneness to fish,” Dallas fish market owner Rex Bellomy told Ken Kalthoff of NBCDFW.com.
“A place where families bring their kids”
Founded in 1968, Catfish Corner is among the oldest active fish farms in the U.S.––”a place where families bring their kids, often to fish for the first time. Others stop by and pick a catfish out of a tank for dinner. They can have their fish cleaned and take them home to eat,” described Dallas Morning News staff writer Melissa Repko.
“They kill the fish nationwide the same way. I don’t know what the deal is,” Catfish Corner owner Bill Benson told Repko.
Agreed Texas Parks & Wildlife warden Garry Collins, “99.9% of the commercial places do that.”
Routine & rarely questioned
But that was Mercy for Animals’ point: the Catfish Corner practices are routine and rarely questioned, not only nationwide but worldwide. They have not withstood previous humane scrutiny because there has never been any.
Mercy For Animals exposed “Workers using pliers to pull the skin off of live fish, dozens of fish crammed into buckets and baskets, gasping for oxygen, skinned fish still moving and gasping on the cutting table, fish flailing and struggling to escape the workers knives, live fish sliced and split in half, and workers tearing the heads off of live fish,” summarized the MFA media release sent out with the video clips.
Mercy for Animals director of investigations Daniel Hauff on December 6, 2010 asked the Dallas County district attorney’s office to prosecute Benson. When, expectedly, no prosecution followed, Hauff released the video to media with an appeal for amendments to the Texas state cruelty law to protect fish. The Mercy for Animals position was supported by statements from veterinarian Lee Schrader and Jonathan Balcombe, author of Second Nature: The Inner Lives of Animals.
Within hours links to some of the Mercy for Animals clips were offered by MSNBC, Change.org, and The Huffington Post, and had gone viral on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. The video clips generated the most public discussion to date in the U.S. or anywhere of cruelty in fish farming, which now produces nearly half of all the fish who are eaten worldwide.
Along the way Mercy for Animals expanded awareness that fish feel pain, and not only when hooked.
U.S. fish farms reportedly kill about 8.4 billion fish per year now, a number rivaling the volume of poultry slaughter. About 80% catfish, with trout and salmon the next most often farmed species. State of the World’s Fisheries & Aquaculture, published in Rome, Italy on January 31, 2011 by the United Nations Food & Agricultural Organization, found that “The contribution of fish to global diets has reached a record of about 17 kilograms (34 pounds) per person on average due mainly to the ever-growing production of aquaculture,” which is expected to soon produce more fish than wild stocks.
“The overall percentage of overexploited, depleted or recovering fish stocks in the world’s oceans has not dropped,” the FAO found, “and is estimated to be slightly higher than in 2006. About 32% of world fish stocks are estimated to be overexploited, depleted or recovering and need to be urgently rebuilt,” the FAO noted.
University of British Columbia researcher Dirk Zeller a week later alleged in the journal Polar Biology that the FAO numbers actually understate the extent of fisheries depletion. According to Zeller, U.S., Canadian, and Russian vessels caught 75 times more fish in Arctic waters than they admitted between 1950 and 2006. “Under-reporting has given us a false sense of comfort that the Arctic is still a pristine frontier when it comes to fisheries,” Zeller wrote.