Salmon now more popular than cod

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Time was that a poor man would only have salmon on his table was when the local poacher had been to call. Today it seems the fish has become part of an everyday family meal.

Research released to coincide with National Seafood Week shows the prince of fish is more popular than cod, stocks of which have fallen to dangerously low levels after decades of overfishing.

Driving the rise in salmon eating has been a rash of positive publicity expounding the health benefits of the Omega 3 oils found in its pink flesh. As well as being high in protein, oily fish is low in potentially harmful fats found in meat with the result that salmon is the now the fastest-growing source of protein in Britain.

Sales, according to the industry body Seafish!, have risened in value from 385m in 2005 to £432m this year compared to £368m for its nearest rival cod.

However, the white fish continues to be number one in terms of the number of tonnes sold – 63,000 tonnes in 2007 compared with 46,000 tonnes of salmon.

Eight of the 10 most popular fish have seen a slight fall in the volumes sold, although the overall value of the market continues to climb. Only tuna, popular with celebrity chefs and in sushi, is rising, along with scampi, once a pub meal stalwart condemned to a place in a basket with chips, but now riding the wave of interest in retro-foods to see sales soar.

Yesterday, a survey conducted among supermarket wine drinkers found fish lovers said they prefer to cook at home. The study for Nobilo Wines found two out of three people ate fish twice a week with one in five popping out to the chip shop for their supper. Fewer than 17 per cent of those that did said they tucked into the traditional Friday night treat of fish and chips.

When it came to a favourite fish, 42 per cent of respondents voted for salmon – compared to 37 per cent who opted for cod. Prawns came third followed by tuna and haddock.

The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, whose members export 50 per cent of their fish, mainly to France where it commands a premium price, said Britain imported half of its salmon, mainly from Norway. A spokeswoman said: "In the UK, demand is growing all the time. One million salmon are eaten every day and one million smoked salmon meals are eaten every week.

"People who buy it say they like to have it as part of a meal at home but they also say they like to order it at a restaurant making it ideal for a special occasion and for everyday eating."

The vast majority of salmon is farmed. Global warming has been blamed for sudden declines in the population of wild salmon in British rivers, according to fishermen.