Sir: It is estimated that a total of around 300 tons of wild salmon reached the UK market last year, either to be sold fresh or to go for smoking. That compares to landings of farmed fish out of Scotland totalling close to 70,000 tons.
Salmon, fresh and smoked, is becoming something of a Christmas tradition, as is the annual habit of food writers to discourse on the subject. This year there has been an overwhelming chorus from the food pages of most national newspapers that wild salmon is best. "Insist on it in your fishmonger's and restaurant."
This is a debatable point. Certainly a fresh-run salmon is a magnificent work of nature and perhaps a prize for the gourmet. Yet the poor, bruised salmon that has flailed itself to death in a net is much less of a trophy, as is the exhausted fish caught high up the river after weeks of starvation. Wild salmon that reach the market are of variable quality and of course most will have been frozen, for it is a short season.
Yet this is not the main point. It is far more important to realise that wild salmon are desperately rare. To make a cachet of this rarity will certainly seal their terminal decline within three or four years, perhaps less.
The message to the consumer should be to stick with farmed salmon, at least for the time being. Find out as much as you can about the environmental and welfare credentials of the supplier and then go for the best. Generally the quality is very high.
In the long run the proliferation of salmon farming cannot be seen as sustainable. It is too reliant on factory fishing to produce its feeds. The long-term answer is to restore the wild salmon to the huge resource that it once was, and in this the salmon farm industry can play a key role in hatching and releasing wild stock.
This is not pie in the sky. It just needs good organisation and a moratorium on fishing. One major initiative is already under way. There are good grounds for optimism, but it is crucial that we preserve the few remaining wild salmon as the last of the seed corn. Otherwise they are lost for ever.
Loch Fyne Oysters Ltd
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