FERN’s Friday Feed: Solving the sick-salmon mystery

Welcome to FERN’s Friday Feed (#FFF), where we share the stories from this week that made us stop and think.

A disease detective tries to solve the mystery of sick salmon


A mysterious die-off last year of young sockeye salmon in British Columbia was the latest chapter in the ongoing effort to understand the myriad factors thought to be causing wild salmon to suffer, from climate change and aquaculture to habitat loss and disease. A major step forward in the sleuthing came when Kristine Miller-Saunders, a Canadian biologist, “developed a technology she calls the salmon FIT-CHIP. It’s an expanded panel of biomarkers that can detect traces of genetic activity linked to various stresses” which should allow her “to map the range of stresses affecting them and better understand how they interact.”

Spurred by tragedy, a woman changed Senegal’s fishing industry

The New York Times

After her son, a fisherman, died at sea, Yayi Bayam Diouf challenged Senegal’s patriarchy to become the first woman in her town to fish commercially. It wasn’t easy, explains Aida Alimi. “When she approached a group of community leaders one night after evening prayers seeking permission to fish, she was told that ‘the water doesn’t need women.’” But she persisted, and went on to establish “a center to train women to fish, to handle their catch in better sanitary conditions and to treat fish stocks as an important resource rather than something to be plundered.”

Sign up for text alerts from FERN

We want to make it easier for you to keep up with all things FERN, including getting notified of FERN’s latest reporting. If that sounds appealing, text FERN to (866) 551-0955 to opt into our brand new (and low-key) SMS messaging service*.

*By providing your mobile number you consent to receive cell phone and text communications from FERN. Msg & data rates may apply. You can unsubscribe at any time by texting STOP to (866) 551-0955. Terms and privacy policy available here.

Why technology hasn’t ended chick culling in the egg industry


“Every year, up to 7 billion day-old male chicks are tossed into shredding machines, gassed, or suffocated in plastic bags — a process known as chick culling. This grim ritual is underpinned by both biology and economics: Male chicks don’t lay eggs, and they fatten up too slowly to be sold as meat.” But, as Jonathan Moens writes, there are “technological innovations that allow producers to identify the sex of a developing chick before it hatches,” obviating the need for culling. So what’s the holdup?

This tiny fish has survived intense pollution, but at what cost?

The Atlantic

Decades of shipping and shipbuilding turned Virginia’s Elizabeth River into one of the nation’s most polluted waterways. “Below the iridescent slime covering much of the river’s surface, though, a greenish minnow-size baitfish called the mummichog—also known as the Atlantic killifish—was managing to eke out a living in the waters that abut the Elizabeth’s Superfund sites,” writes Carrie Arnold. “[T]he mummichog is a case study in the costs of survival: The fish have managed to endure in the river, but some have undergone fundamental genetic changes.”

Novel explores the relationship between seeds and humans

High Country News

“Diane Wilson’s first novel explores matrilineal kinship through the act of seed keeping, both metaphorically and literally,” writes Anna V. Smith. “Wilson uses seeds to reflect on Indigenous resilience in a colonized world.” The story starts with Rosalie Iron Wing returning to the rural Minnesota community where she grew up, but “it eventually multiplies, jumping through time, from one narrator in the 1860s to another in the early 2000s. The world Wilson builds … bears elements of Wilson’s own life — growing up in Minnesota and experiencing anti-Native racism in majority-white towns; discovering the power of seeds in adulthood, and, by extension, reconnecting with her ancestral wealth.”