Salmon Going Nuts at a Fish Farm Possibly High on Cocaine, Officials Say

In a report section titled "Salmon on Coke," German environmental officials say cocaine exposure could be at the root of frantic jumping behavior.
July 14, 2021, 1:00pm
Salmon Going Nuts at a Fish Farm Possibly High on Cocaine, Officials Say
Image: State Environmental Agency of North Rhine-Westphalia

Salmon frantically jumping around on a fish farm in Germany may have been on cocaine, according to a report released by German environmental officials. 

Officials from the State Environmental Agency of North Rhine-Westphalia (also known as Lanuv) noticed the strange and erratic behavior from the Atlantic Salmon in June of 2020 while overseeing a species conservation project. 

“The salmon panicked and attempted to jump out of the water,” Daniel Fey, head of the Ecology and Aquaculture department, told Der Spiegel Magazine, adding that the behavior is indicative of contaminated water. “It was a response to a feeling of discomfort.”  

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In a section of its recently released annual report titled “Salmon on Coke,” the Lanuv outlines the steps it took to figure out the salmon’s puzzling behavior.  

According to the report, researchers sampled water from the streams that fed the fish tanks and analyzed it using a high precision analysis tool. They found a number of different herbicides, insecticides, pesticides, and pharmaceuticals, all in low amounts giving “no clear indication that the salmon’s behavior could be derived from these.” Then they detected “two conspicuous substances” in one of the streams: cocaine and its chemical degradation product benzoylecgonine

The drug was not found in samples taken of the tank itself, but the researchers think this was likely because the tank is highly diluted. 

“A clear cause for the behavior of the fish could not be determined,” the report reads. “However, a reaction to cocaine detected in the stream water cannot be ruled out.” 

Because of these “unusual findings,” officials investigated the stream and found an illegal wastewater discharge, which they consequently reported to local authorities. It is not clear from the report who was behind the discharge or where it was coming from. Elsewhere in Europe, it’s common for drug gangs and manufacturers to dump toxic waste and chemicals in local streams and rivers. 

The German salmon are not the only fish that have been exposed to uppers. Much research has focused on effects of recreational drugs found in waters that fish share with humans in the UK, Europe, and elsewhere. Researchers in Czechia even recently intentionally got trout addicted to meth using typically-found levels of the substance to show the negative effects, even finding that the fish may experience withdrawal symptoms after they were placed in a meth-free environment. 

For what it’s worth, the German salmon showed no signs of any permanent health damage, according to the report. 

Oddly enough, the strange episode only lasted for a day before the salmon returned to their normal selves. 

The State Environmental Agency of North Rhine-Westphalia did not respond to VICE Motherboard’s request for comment.