Did I tell you about the days when we used to eat wild salmon?

It’s a strange time of the year, Christmas is over, children are back at school and days are starting to lengthen, we know spring is around the corner but the cold and frosty mornings have reduced those thoughts to whims and fancies. Guns have been cleaned and locked away and for me it’s meant a visit to the cupboard under the stairs, pull out my rods and reacquaint myself with fishing gear that has been gathering dust over the winter months. In Scotland the wild salmon rod and line season started on most major rivers in mid-January, while in England and Wales we will have to wait until March. Melting snow and rain has meant Scottish rivers have seen little activity but hope springs eternal and I have already booked a couple of trips for April in my quest for that early and elusive springer (salmon).

In Scotland the rod and line fishing has suffered several poor seasons and ghillies that I spoke to last year voiced genuine concerns about river salmon stocks declining at an alarming rate. The blame gets evenly spread between Government, farm fertilisers and nitrates, birds of prey, commercial netting, seals, dolphins and salmon farms, but now many are thinking the problem may be even more complicated and actually something that is happening out at sea.

The good news is closer to home though and the River Severn, which until recently, was described by the Environment Agency as a river ‘at risk’ is now a river ‘probably not at risk’. This reclassification is extremely important as it completely revaluates the health of the river’s stock. It’s also at a time when pressure is mounting for the E. A. to rethink their new licensing policy which has, in effect, closed the small commercial wild salmon fishery on the Severn. The word commercial does this fishery a disservice. It is in fact a group of twenty-five old boys who enjoy fishing the river for a tiny reward that at the moment doesn’t cover the cost of their license.

We are actively supporting these fishermen and feel that this heritage fishery with its skills and river knowledge is a tradition of Gloucestershire we can ill afford to lose. To be truly ‘sustainable’ environmental, social, and economic benefits must all overlap, but the E.A seems to be purely interested in only the environmental aspect of sustainability.

We don’t want the fishery to have unlimited access; it’s essential it’s sustainably managed and controlled, it would also help if the old riparian rights were returned so a license holder can bequeath his license to his son or daughter. With the E.A. we need to be able to take a more custodial approach to the fishery to ensure its long-term future rather than legislate to kill the fishery.

The E.A. also plans to implement a total ban on the off-shore netting on the N.E. English coast in 2018. This is a proper commercial fishery and accounts for 93% of the commercial catch of wild salmon and sea trout in England and Wales. As the coastal net fisheries in Scotland closed some years ago it’s almost certain that most of the wild salmon coming to London somehow picks up a Scottish passport en route. Numbers will also put this in some sort of perspective. In 2016 the N.E. fishery caught roughly 38,000 seatrout and 18,500 wild salmon. 2016 was also the last year that the Severn netsmen fished their quota, their total catch for the season was 162. This means particularly wild salmon but wild sea trout as well will become a rarity and something that chefs will only be able to feature as a rare delicacy, and by 2020 something we may talk to our children about having once tasted.

Continuing on the trout theme we have teamed up with Chalk Stream Foods and taken their awarding winning farmed trout, which is proving popular with many of the country’s leading chefs. The fish are reared in farms alongside the River Ichen and the River Test, and it is the diverted spring fed chalk stream waters that gives these fish their clean and delicate sweet flavour. By successfully now producing a suitable large fish for smoking we think is a product that will have widespread appeal, a British sustainably reared fish that for so long has been undervalued. We are planning to have hot and cold smoked trout available from the 14th February, wholesale customers contact the sales office for details.

The 15th February is the start of the elver season. The cold weather may mean that we will have to wait a while before we see any reasonable catches, but like all fishermen we remain optimistic. Any chefs or wholesale customers that would like to get involved in our restocking or Tanks in Schools programme get in touch, it’s a wonderful feeling restocking British rivers, involving children and teaching them at the same time about the wonders and life of the eel, its value as a resource and how we need to look after and respect our rivers.