Statistics show that close to three trillion fish are killed each and every year! And while many people enjoy the taste of fish and plenty of communities around the world rely on fishing to survive, more and more people are starting to think about the ethics of animal slaughter. We’re seeing more individuals choose to become vegetarians or vegans, or try to reduce their meat intake, and a lot of folks are taking a real interest in how animals are raised and killed.
While many animals are still treated badly on farms, there has been a lot of progress in terms of killing them in a way that minimizes suffering, but when it comes to fish, little has changed in recent centuries.
The vast majority of fish are simply caught, tossed into a bucket of ice or simply dropped on the deck and left to suffocate. It’s a slow, stressful death, and while studies haven’t conclusively proven that fish feel pain, they have shown that fish can feel fear and stress and try to escape when they start to feel those emotions. For too long, it seemed like there was no real alternative in terms of killing fish, but Japanese fishermen like Yoshinori are introducing the world to a better way.
Yoshinori practices ‘ikejime’, which translates to ‘closing the fish’ in English. It’s a technique that has been used in Japan for centuries, but has only recently started to catch on around the world.
Ikejime isn’t pretty to watch, as it essentially involves piercing the brain of the fish and feeding a wire through its spinal cord, but it is the fastest and most humane option we have right now.
Part of what makes ikejime such a good technique is that it isn’t just beneficial from an ethical standpoint; it also results in much fresher fish.
It actually delays the process of rigor mortis, allowing the flesh to stay a lot fresher and giving chefs more options in terms of how they choose to prepare and cook the fish.
When visiting the United Kingdom and seeing firsthand how the fish there lacked freshness and taste compared to fish from his homeland, Yoshinori became determined to share ikejime with the fishermen of Britan.
And after a little training, plenty of fishermen off the coast of Cornwall in the south of England have started to give it a try, like Simon Bradley, pictured below.
Killing fish through ikejime is a more time-consuming process than simply letting them expire on the deck of a boat or gutting them with a knife, so it leads to more time and resources used and results in higher price tags on the final product, but for Yoshinori, it’s worth it.
If it works for fishermen’s lives and fish’s lives, it’s much better.
Ikejime won’t work for everyone, as the demand for fish is simply so high, all over the world, that it would be impossible for fishermen to use this technique on every single fish they catch, but it’s a much more humane option than the alternative, and we hope to see more fishermen learning this Japanese practice in future.
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