With my background as a fisherwoman and former fisherman’s wife, I have persisted in working with wild Salmon throughout my career. This is largely through personal choice. The proliferation of farmed fish that flooded the market in the late 1980s had a very detrimental effect on the sale of wild fish, which are highly seasonal and only available for a very short time each year, owing to necessary regulatory controls. These are in place to try to protect greater numbers of fish returning to Irish rivers to spawn; however, there are bigger issues at hand.
The simple solution is not to just ‘stop’ catching them. We need to completely readdress all the major issues affecting the Wild Salmon, including agri-pollution (chemicals and fertilisers applied to the land that wash into the rivers through conventional farming), the spawning gravel beds (redds) which the Salmon need have been interfered with over the years through drainage schemes and removal by humans, amongst other factors.
Human intervention in the natural world is the major cause of declining stocks.
There has been a tradition of engaging with wild salmon for food for 10,000 years. Even venerated visually for its life sustaining importance in beautiful Pictish stone carvings.
They have so nearly vanished in such a short space of time, we more than owe it to the species to try our best to clean up the fresh-water system, stop polluting the seas with plastics and worse. Rehabilitate the entire watercourses and catchments in Ireland to make the habitat for our remaining wild fish suitable for them to reproduce in and continue their survival with us.
It is now recognised that the speed of their decline is due to industrial fishing in international waters, where there are no regulatory controls, with the salmon smolts being hoovered up with other small bait fish.
For as long as the fishery is open, in this time of wanton greed and destruction of the natural world, I will stand by this incredible, magnificent creature and age-old connection to the wild, making one of the most precious foods available.
On a more positive note, many volunteers are working hard to restore the redds where the fish can lay their eggs, carrying bucketfuls of gravel to the areas where such gravel has been removed over time, cutting back overshadowing trees and bushes to allow light to penetrate into the water, where it permits microscopic planktonic life to evolve, necessary for feeding juvenile fish. Keeping cattle back from the water's edge to prevent silts from flowing onto the eggs which smothers them. Native brown trout, sea-trout, and eels will also benefit from these actions. Education about, and awareness of, our responsibilities to other life-forms on the planet is vital.
As a fish smoker for all my working life, I have enjoyed applying my techniques to alternative specii in response to the declining stocks. This has yielded many delicious new products utilising less popular varieties which are not overfished. We must go back to the time when we would eat whatever the fishers brought in, and therefore know how to cook what was available. This is millenia-old normal practice, but nowadays, through mass industry, we have become accustomed to consuming only a handful of varieties of fish, when locally, to these waters, there are surely at least 100 types of delicious sea creatures available, many of them in abundance but unfamiliar to most except fishing families. Let us get back to living in harmony with our surroundings, and maintaining our lifelong relationship, honouring the bounty that nature gives us by catching, preserving and eating from the wild, as always was.