When, in 2016, the F/V Blue North ventured into the Bering Sea on her maiden voyage, onlookers in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, could have been forgiven for mistaking the sleek $40 million long-liner for a yacht. The Blue North is perhaps the country’s highest-tech fishing boat, outfitted with fuel-efficient engines, automated freezers, and cargo elevators. Its most radical feature, however, is its “stunner”—an electrified table that knocks cod unconscious with a direct current of about 35 volts.
On a typical long-lining boat, fish are hauled up over the side. Crew members impale each struggling cod with a gaffe, tear out the hook, and fling the creatures aside to bleed or suffocate. The Blue North’s lines, by contrast, emerge into a “moon pool,” an enclosed chamber that allows fishermen to control their catch rather than hurl it willy-nilly across the deck. Cod pass over the stun table within seconds of their arrival; only once a fish is insensate does a crew member remove the hook and deliver the fatal cut.
It’s easy to forget, while gazing down at your spicy tuna roll, that fishing is a brutal business. Commercial fishers suffocate halibut, bleed out salmon, and crush pollock in trawls. Since 1958, the federal Humane Methods of Slaughter Act has required that terrestrial livestock be rendered insensible to pain before death, but the law excludes fish. Now, however, one growing seafood company is beginning to consider the welfare of its catch—and, perhaps, fomenting a revolution in how we treat our finned brethren.