The upcoming free screening of the documentary “Artifishal” at the Lynwood Theatre turned out to be strangely prescient, though the film itself has been in the works for nearly two decades.
Recently, the partial sinking of an empty Cooke Aquaculture salmon pen in the waters just off Fort Ward Park put many conservationists and concerned neighbors in mind the notorious 2017 incident, where 250,000 invasive salmon were released into the Salish Sea.
This time, everything worked out fine. But Cooke has agreed to pay a $332,000 fine for the previous negligent release, and had the lease at their Cypress Island facility terminated, leading some to say this latest recent alarm was anything but false.
Additionally, critics say recent regulatory hair-splitting that will allow the company to raise native fish species in lieu of non-native varieties, thus supposedly mitigating the damage should a future escape occur, is not the solution it’s been presented as.
“Artifishal,” which was lauded at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, and partially filmed on Bainbridge Island, explores what the filmmakers call “wild salmon’s slide toward extinction,” as well as threats posed by fish hatcheries and fish farms.
It will play at the Lynwood Theatre on Thursday, Nov. 7. Admission is free with a reservation, which can be made online via www.brownpapertickets.com (Event #4407164 or just search “Artifishal”).
Doors open at 6:30 and the movie starts at 7 p.m., to be followed by a discussion featuring Dylan Tomine, one of the film’s producers and a Bainbridge Island resident, and Kurt Beardslee, director of the Wild Fish Conservancy.
“About three-fourths of [the film] is about the government-run hatchery programs all over the world and the other fourth is about fish farms, which are also proliferating all around the world,” Tomine said. “I live on Bainbridge Island and we’re pretty strongly affected by the fish farm here, that’s off Point White, and so it made sense to shoot some of the film here.
“This is a timely screening,” he added, “especially here on Bainbridge.
“With Cooke Aquaculture pushing to circumvent the will of Washington voters by exploiting a loophole in the legislation affecting net pens, including the one here off Point White, it’s critical that citizens know what’s going on.”
The film also covers the plight of southern resident killer whales and how artificial propagation of Chinook salmon is reportedly pushing them, and wild Chinook salmon, closer to extinction.
“With the governor’s orca task force misguidedly, or self-servingly, recommending more hatchery production of Chinook salmon to ‘feed the whales,’ again, it’s critical that taxpayers know what they’ll be paying for,” Tomine said. “The state has been very supportive of [Cooke Aquaculture], to the point that when they had the Piscine reovirus (a highly contagious disease strongly linked to a heart disease in salmon) outbreak there, which was the first fish farm outbreak in the lower 48 of that disease, the state wanted to come on board there … and do sampling and Cooke told them no and the state oversight [officials] said, ‘OK.’ They said, ‘We won’t come and check.’”
Timely as it is, the film has actually been in production for some time.
“I really started working on this film in a lot of ways in 2001,” Tomine said.
“[That] was when I first started realizing we have these problems. I’m a fisherman and was starting to see some pretty severe impacts and closures and I traced it kind of back through my own research, talked to a lot of biologists and fish managers, and kind of figured out what was going on. So I went through a whole series of different ways to tell people about these bad practices and how taxpayer money was being wasted on this and so I’ve been shepherding along some version of this for literally like 18 years now.”
In addition to the assistance and support of the Wild Fish Conservancy, the film was produced and released via a partnership with Patagonia, where Tomine is employed.
Previously, the company released a film about dam removal.
“In a lot of ways, Patagonia is really the only organization that could take this project on and weather the storm and do it right,” Tomine said. “They have leverage to reach a wide audience in ways that most of the NGOs or environmental nonprofits are not going to do.
“[Patagonia] is committed to what is pretty controversial subject matter and stance on that subject matter, even to the detriment of their business, in that a number of the communities that support Patagonia and buy Patagonia clothing are not real happy with the message,” he added.
“Patagonia has generally been strong allies with the sport fishing community; we sell sport fishing equipment. We’ve traditionally been longtime allies of tribal communities throughout North America, and we are working very closely with commercial fishing. We have a food division that sells commercially caught salmon and we create workwear for people who work on the water … so it’s pretty risky to go out with a statement that may run contrary to the political views of a number of those people.”
That the subject is so contentious may strike outsiders as surprising, but the producer said it’s been a long-simmering bone of contention among those in-the-know.
“Part of the problem is that the fish stakeholders have been fighting about fish farms and fish hatcheries for decades,” he said.
“It’s usually the sport fishermen and the commercial fishermen and the [American Indian] tribes, state government, state agencies, and it’s kind of this small world of fish issues. But really, we believe that this is a story that’s much more affecting of the general public, whether it’s pollution of public water or misuse of public funds. So we felt like it was really important and a great opportunity to take this story to the wider public.”
Josh Rosenau, Wild Fish Conservancy Northwest’s Director of Communications, agreed, saying most people don’t seem to understand there is an issue to be concerned about; a fact he hopes “Artifishal” will change.
“It’s certainly great to see the complexities of hatcheries getting this airtime and this discussion, because it’s something that I think, for a lot of the public, a lot of the fish-eating public, it’s just something that goes under the radar and we don’t really think about where our fish come from and how they’re produced,” he said.
“When you go to the supermarket and you see ‘wild-caught salmon’ … I had always just assumed that they were just natural salmon that had grown up in a river and hatched out of eggs on a gravel bed in some river and swam out to the ocean and got big and then someone harvested them. But most of those are hatchery-raised fish. And their presence in the ocean makes it seem as if we’ve got an abundance of the wild fish, as if our wild salmon are doing well. It masks the real problems that are happening in salmon fisheries and in salmon conservation.”
Cooke Aquaculture chose not to participate in the filming of “Artifishal” and did not respond to the Review’s request to comment about the film and the screening on Bainbridge.
Visit www.patagonia.com/arti fishal to learn more about the film.