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Andrew Tsui is a lawyer out in suburban Maryland, but spends a lot of his time catching and killing fish for food. Andrew primarily focuses on the white perch, a common small fish found around the mid-Atlantic US waters.
Now for many of us who know about harvesting and animal treatment, we know that people typically don’t handle their animal food very well. Fishermen who catch in bulk often mistreat fish poorly. That or some simply lack experience if you’re catching on your own. But Andrew discovered something and it’s a strategy that can help other people.
The first realization is that fish can actually feel pain or something similar. Despite popular belief, it’s revealed that a fish’s body creates opioids in order to fight pain. This function is very similar to how humans and other mammals manage pain as well. Furthermore when you administer morphine in rainbow trouts, their behaviour shifts dramatically. Enough to suggest that they do actually feel pain.
This realization is key because while we are killing billions of other animals poorly, the amount of fish being improperly killed is pretty high up there as well. One paper estimating that we kill 14.3 billion to 128.9 billion (huge spread, but considering fish death data is not as reliable it makes sense) fish every year. The numbers get higher if you decide to count shellfish as well.
All this means is that we should be working on reducing our fish consumption, that is if you really care about animal welfare. But it’s also worth considering if there is a more humane way to kill fish. And that’s where Andrew comes in.
Andrew was familiar with a technique called ike jime (guide.michelin.com). Originated from Japanese culture, this technique today is used by gourmet sushi restaurants. The technique simply requires you to stab or bludgeon the fish in the head until they’re braindead, followed by bleeding them out, and then destroying their spinal cord via a metal rod.
While the technique does sound graphic, it’s actually far less painful for the fish than the alternative. For bulk fishermen, the fish have a tendency of trying to escape the net and as a result bash against the other fish along with the walls. Due to the constant thrashing, they often get beaten up all over their body and even suffocate. This is bad because when a fish suffocates, their bodies become flooded with lactic acid and various other chemicals which actually sour the meat that they produce. This results in that distinct “fishy” odor that so many of dislike about fish.
With Ike Jime, you don’t run into that issue at all. Furthermore Andrew and many other who use this method argue that the fish meat is more delicious when you use this method and it’s true. Many who use this method report that the technique produces better, tastier, and long lasting meat that’s even up to the quality of a fine steak. This is a huge difference between the salmon or fish you buy from most of the grocery stores you visit.
Of course, not many grocery stores will use this method, however if you are someone who catches fish time and again and cook them, feel free to try this method.