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Wild salmon | The Smelly Alley Fish Company

We've just sold our first wild salmon, won't worry you about the price! They will become more available and cheaper as the summer goes on (this was written at the beginning of June 2018).

Sea trout are dropping in price as they become more plentiful, and if this year is as good as last year, we will be happy.

Wild salmon, like sea trout, will drop in price as the season progresses through the summer, but they are never cheap. Not like the days when salmon was cheap and thought of as poor-quality food. I’ve read stories of pupils at private schools in the 1800s being told they would only have to eat salmon (all wild in those days) three times a week.

So why is wild salmon so scarce now?

First of all, salmon going upstream to breed do not really eat. They may take the odd fly, but the fact they are not looking for food is why they are hard to catch. When we used to have big wooden boxes of wild salmon in the 1960s you would always get one fish that was white-fleshed because it had become trapped in fresh water for a long time and lost its pink colour that it had got from eating crustaceans in the sea.

But the main reason for the massive drop in salmon catches is because the areas where salmon fed at sea were discovered in the late 1950s – off Greenland. Before this the life of the salmon was a mystery. In the 1960s Norwegian, Faroese, Danish and Greenland fishing boats started fishing with drift nets of up to 5kg long, and the area became the biggest salmon fishery of all time. In 1971 2700 tonnes of salmon were caught. In the fishmonger-fish wholesaler world the blame is always put onto two Danish fishing boats that maintained radio silence when fishing for salmon. These large ships caught thousands and thousands of tonnes of wild sea salmon. In our small shop in Smelly Alley, Reading, we would have three 100lb cardboard boxes of wild salmon a week. The salmon were skin damaged because they had been badly handled on the deck of the fishing boats, then frozen. But they were cheaper than herrings, which at the time were our cheapest fish. There were 16,000 fishmongers in those days, not the 300 that there are today, so you can imagine the volume of wild salmon that was sold.






One of the old wooden salmon boxes that wild salmon from Perthshire used to travel in. Don't confuse these wild salmon with the mass-fished salmon that this blog is describing! The box is now used as a cat box, they love it! You can just make out "Frosts Reading" the previous name (and official name) of The Smelly Alley Fish Company.

These fish weren’t just being sold in the UK, but worldwide, for approximately 12 to 15 years. The Danish boats kept going until there weren’t many salmon left.

Not much is known about this phase in the history of salmon fishing. I have seen, after much searching, a few reports and a chapter in Biological Diversity by Paul Hatcher and Nick Battey, published in 2011. I do know that questions were asked in Parliament, and fears were expressed that salmon would become extinct.

In my opinion, as a fishmonger, it will take 300 years to build up stocks, if recovery is possible at all.