Scots taste the high life as ban on salmon `caviar' is lifted


Scotland Correspondent

A 128-year-old law has been repealed to allow Scottish salmon farmers to start selling their own version of caviar - salmon roe.

The law which forced fish farmers to throw away the eggs their young salmon produce was introduced after pressure from the landed gentry because poachers were using the eggs as bait to catch wild fish from the salmon- rich Tay and Tweed.

As recently as 1994 a supermarket in Edinburgh was ordered to remove tins of Norwegian salmon roe from its shelves after the wife of Scotland's salmon bailiff spotted the illegal goods while shopping. But intense lobbying from an industry which each year sells more than 70,000 tons of fish worth pounds 250m has forced the change.

By August, when salmon begin to produce eggs, fish farmers will process the roe, tin it, and the new British delicacy will take its place alongside the finest Russian Beluga in Harrods, Fortnum and Masons and delicatessen around the country in time for Christmas. A 250g tin will cost around pounds 12.

Whether Britons will enjoy the new luxury food is unclear. Salmon farmer Alastair Barge says the roe reminds him of the cod liver oil his mother gave him. But restaurants are already showing interest and Mr Barge has taken orders from Japan, where consumers eat more than 10,000 tons of roe each year. "So far the market prospects look promising," he said.

William Crowe, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Growers' Association, agrees. He believes the Scots caviar market could be worth up to pounds 15m a year. "Norwegian and Japanese roe sell widely across the world and, with its good name, Scottish salmon will sell, too," he said.

"It is crazy that it has taken so long for fish farmers, who make the highest quality smoked salmon, to be able to sell this premium by-product."

Salmon-smokers and chefs argue that few people will follow Russian diners and eat the eggs with brown bread and lemon vodka. The roe is more likely to be used as a garnish on fish, shellfish and in salads.

Robert Campbell-Preston, of the Highland Inverawe Smokehouse, said: "Salmon caviar is delicious. Add a good dollop on an oyster and it has a terrific effect." Mr Barge hopes it will do the same for his business.

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