Harrods Salmon at £245 a kilo
Wild salmon was on sale last week at the Harrods luxury store in London for £245 a kilo, making the cost of the average salmon to be over £700, or around £60 for a single portion. Chips would probably be extra.
The fish was claimed by Harrods to have legally come from the river Tweed, and a spokesman for the Northumberland Inshore fisheries authority has confirmed to me that there is still a very small fishery operating legally from there using a traditional hand netting system where only a small handful of fish are being caught.
The sale of the fish from the Tweed is the result of a complex arrangement with the Scottish government as it may have been born in Scotland and crossed the border.
The sale of the wild, as opposed to farmed, fish comes at a time when the crisis in the amount of fish returning to spawn in British rivers is reaching a crisis point, with almost all the commercially driven Scottish salmon netting stations having their licenses withdrawn and almost all salmon caught by rod and line having to be legally returned to the river live.
Official government figures suggest that in 1967 over five hundred and twenty thousand wild salmon were reported to have been caught in nets in Scotland, by 2019 ( after the closing of the commercial netting stations ) only five hundred and eighty one fish were reported to have been caught in nets.
When I was a child hanging around a fishing station on Mull at that time we used to sell wild salmon at around fifty pence a kilo, around one five hundredth of the price that Harrods are selling their fish.
So around five hundred thousand fish netted in 1967 and five hundred netted in 2019. What are we doing to ourselves?
The cause of the decline in wild salmon is being variously blamed on a number of factors including climate change, over fishing, sea lice being swept from farmed salmon cages , an increase in seals, interbreeding between escaped fish farmed salmon and the wild version or causes unknown.
Now many small agencies are starting to conduct reviews into the situation. Typically last week the river Ness district salmon board announced a survey costing over five figures claiming that their river is under increasing pressure from human activities and climate change. Their survey will concentrate in the five odd miles of river near Inverness.
In the Scottish government circles there is now increasing pressure for tighter legislation on fish farm management which many see as being influential in the problem.
In May 2020 a committee called for a new body to be set up to regulate the interaction between wild and farmed salmon.
But the issue is more complex than that. Last week we saw Iain Blackford, highheidyun of the SNP in Westminster opening a large new fish farm in north eastern Skye, which was claimed to be organic with lower densities , and good for him if it was . On his press releases he remarked that he recognised that there were concerns about fish farming that ought to be embraced. But how big an embrace is he advocating? One of those wee pecks on the cheeks, or a full ravish?
It’s not easy for him, or indeed anyone. After all if we were to give the salmon greater dignity through lower densities we would soon be reducing the dignity of many of the fish farm workers in Scotlands two hundred odd fish farms as they lost their jobs, once again we see the problems that arrive when standards are not universal across nations.
Then there’s the seals, the numbers of seals now evident in many a Scottish river mouth is now so enormous it’s amazing that any wild salmon at all manage to return to their native rivers to spawn, so more culling of seals in the interest of those fishing on the often privately owned rivers?
Personally having dived below many a fish farm and witnessed the devastation caused by excess anti-lice chemicals being dumped over cages and spoken to fish farm workers who have been appalled at seeing the high numbers of mortalities and deformities in their stock I rarely eat farmed salmon, and am prepared to pay a little bit more for organically raised fish, but wonder where the red lines should be.
Last week I asked the fish mongers at Harrods who it was that were buying the £63 a portion wild salmon.
“Rich people“ came the reply, which was handy to know, though depressing to contemplate.
It’s time for that embrace Mr Blackford, and indeed Holyrood.
But no tongues. We’ve had enough talk.