Let's all hug a salmon

fishing lines
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The Independent Online
A JOURNALIST friend once described public relations as "the indescribable giving the indigestible to the incorrigible in an inexplicable way". A bit cruel, that - and inaccurate too. Salmon, cooked properly, certainly aren't indigestible.

Salmon and PR . . . an odd mix, like sardines and mincemeat or Eskimos and string. But today even fish employ PR consultants. Whereas once their campaigns were fought by anglers and landowners, whose principal weapon appeared to be a letter to Trout and Salmon, nowadays it's a job for the professionals. On waters like the River Dee, at Aberdeen, a public relations campaign is even having some success in making anglers put salmon back.

Nothing very strange there, you might think, but to most salmon anglers the concept of returning a fish that has cost hundreds or even thousands of pounds to catch is as alien as ET. The attitude of "I've caught it and it's cost me a lot of money so it's mine" is difficult to change. Some of Britain's foremost salmon anglers still feel that on a river like the Dee, where several thousand salmon are caught every year, one or two will not make any difference - especially as an illegal drift- net fishery off the north-east coast, which the government ignores, takes many more fish and contributes nothing to the local economy.

Personally, my Scottish salmon expeditions seem to comprise a lot of time in rain and snow catching nothing. But rod anglers catch a surprising proportion of returning salmon. On the River Test, in Hampshire, for example, it's as high as 25 per cent. But today's lunch is tomorrow's sport, and fishermen are slowly being persuaded to return their catch to ensure the salmon's survival.

This makes enormous sense. Salmon are as cheap as cod, thanks to the proliferation of fish farms. More than 90 per cent of the salmon in shops is farmed (you can tell the difference by the small, ragged fins). The only real reason to keep a fish is vanity.

As you can see, I've been reading the press material assiduously. But like all the best PR, it isn't just out to convert one small bunch of no-account journalists. This week I was reading Mapping Awareness, a magazine that discusses such sexy issues as geodemographics, digital mapping and spatial information, to discover that the Hug A Salmon campaign is getting coverage from the most unlikely sources.

Up at Banchony, Aberdeenshire, the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology has designed a pounds 50,000 Geographic Information System. On a computer screen it looks like the result of leaving a white handkerchief among coloured items in an extra-hot wash, but mappers assure me it is state-of-the-art.

Information on everything from coniferous forests and peatland to areas where the river's gradient is more than 8 per cent have been included. I'm told it's called What If? modelling. So when a lorry carrying thousands of Budgie the Helicopter books crashes off Balmoral Bridge, the program can calculate how fast the pollution will spread downstream. It co-ordinates all the information about the river, pinpointing the relationship between fish spawning, bank erosion, acid rain and farming, for example.

This might seem a lot of effort for a new fish. But the Dee has a 2,000 sq km catchment area (including the Queen's water at Balmoral) and the rod-fishing industry is worth more than pounds 6m a year, with around 400 jobs. Plus a few more, now the PR boys have wormed their way in.