Fishing Lines: A tasty tale of fish and quips

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The Independent Online
A NASTY shock awaits those who think that booking a day's angling on a Scottish salmon river assures them of fish suppers for the month. The situation is so dire this year that some are predicting there will be no wild salmon left in Scotland by 2000.

Prime stretches of the best rivers such as the Tweed, Spey and Tay were once surefire bets for a dozen or more fish. When fishing was really grand, 40 or more salmon was not unknown.

Prices haven't gone down but fish numbers have. It's not just Scotland, either. I heard this week that the river Test in Hampshire hasn't produced a salmon all year. Once silver visitors were so numerous that river-keepers used to hoick them out by all sorts of foul means, because trout anglers complained that they kept having their lines broken by those damn salmon.

Worrying stuff. It's got to the stage where conservationists are arguing for all salmon, not just the hen fish, to be returned. Bit controversial, this. Those who have forked out enough money to buy a small car just to step on the riverbank are miffed, arguing that for what they have spent, they feel perfectly justified in keeping what they catch.

For me, this is less of a worry for two reasons. First, my forays on to Scottish salmon waters are so rare as to make any impact on stocks non-existent. Secondly, I eat little of what I catch these days. However, some research just published in the Lancet could change all that.

My parents can probably still name as many species as any marine biologist. This is a less than fond reminder of the days when I dragged home anything with fins for them to eat. Subconsciously, it was a throwback to man the hunter. There was I, ekeing out the family budget. What a hero.

Very occasionally there were recognisable fish like mackerel and trout. They dined on bass, grey mullet and monkfish way before it was fashionable. But they also suffered some horrors: inedible freshwater things like ruffe, roach, bream and the awful shad, with three times as many bones as a herring.

I got better at fishing. I caught more. But somewhere along the line, my desire to bond with my captures by devouring them disappeared. I felt more and more of a rapport with them. We were friends. So I said "Thanks" and put them back. My mates thought I was crackers.

The funny thing is, I never worried about eating fish they caught. I never developed vegetarian tendencies (have you noticed how people who wander round health food shops look like they could do with a large steak?) nor felt for a moment about giving up angling. It was just this close relationship between me and my fish, and I was perfectly at peace with this ambiguous attitude.

According to the Lancet, there may be a very good reason for that. In the latest edition, Joseph R Hibbeln has been looking at the relationship between fish consumption and serious depression. In the manner of researchers, Hibbeln is unable to state absolutely that one and one make two, but his evidence points very clearly to the conclusion that the more fish you eat, the less likely you are to feel depressed.

His figures show a near 60-fold variation across countries. Nations such as the Japanese and Taiwanese, who eat about 3lb of fish a week, are happy little bunnies, laughing and sticking whoopy cushions under executive backsides. At the other end of the scale, the New Zealanders, Canadians and, worst of all, the Germans are depressed races who spend all their time wondering what life's all about. It's because they are eating only a couple of fish fingers a week.

It's all down to low plasma concentrations of an essential fatty acid found in fish, docosahexaenoic acid, which predict low concentrations of a marker of brain serotonin turnover, cerebrospinal fluid. But you probably knew that. More to the point, the World Health Organisation estimates that serious depression is the greatest single cause of disability world-wide.

So there you have it. For those worried about killing the few salmon left, I advise: keep them and eat them. You'll feel good about it afterwards.