As a child, I spent many family holidays in Royal Deeside and the East Coast of Scotland, eating hot, pearly, sweet tasting fish and chips with my dad, straight of the jostling, crowded boats at Peterhead. Other times I would splish-splash around in the icy streams in the Cairngorms, gorge on wild berries, and watch the silvery wild salmon leap and fly like so many kamikaze as they made their extraordinary return journey from the sea to their rich spawning grounds upstream in the heather hills.
This is one of the epic miracles of nature, and one I will never forget. I was enthralled.
Later, as a young journalist, new to London, I would queue at Steve Hatt’s bustling; proper fish shop on the Essex Road in Islington (sadly now extinct) and wait patiently to buy one precious piece of wild salmon. Sometimes Steve would stop to chat and gallantly make a fuss of me, picking out a plump, ladylike salmon steak with its dark, almost purple-tinged flesh and deep pink beauty spots. I would take it home, cook it simply with unsalted butter, fennel and black pepper and eat it with thick slices of soda bread and good French butter.
Wild salmon has a delicate, sweet, intensely satisfying flavour. It is flavour distilled in clear mountain streams and the Atlantic, perfected over journeys lasting thousands of miles, and one that is very different from its anemic, intensely farmed counterpart.
Sometimes Steve would disappoint me, and say that he hadn’t been able to buy any wild salmon this week. I new then that wild salmon stocks were disappearing in the once fertile rivers of the Dee and the Don, and the blame lay firmly with pollution, over fishing, and the rise of intensely reared fish farms.
On a press trip to Scotland ten years ago, I was taken on an impromptu visit to a fish farm on the West Coast. As our small boat pulled up alongside the first of several giant pens, I caught my first glimpse of the ugly reality of cheap, industrial food. Thousands of salmon crammed in a pen with barely any room to move or swim independently. My reaction, like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s, was one of horror. The silence and shame on our little boat was palpable. The mood turned ugly and we quickly returned to shore.
I will not eat farmed salmon. From time to time, and as a treat, I buy some smoked wild Coho Salmon, which comes from Alaska, where stocks of wild salmon are well managed and plentiful.
The only kind of salmon farming that we should tolerate should be lower, density organic farming, where stocks are lower, giving the fish space to move freely, their food comes from fish offcuts, not small fish shipped half way around the world.
Please join Hugh’s Fishfight – and make a lot of noise next time you feel like eating fish. Ask these three questions:
* Where is it from?
* If it is farmed, how was it produced?
* Is it on the endangered list?
Please sign up to Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall’s FishFight Campaign today……
© Alison Jane Reid 2011