Let's move the season

It’s been a while since the last newsletter but so much seems to have been going on. Six weeks ago we had the fantastic news that after 4 years and repeated submissions and alterations our planning for a 3 lagoon water treatment system was finally approved. This is the first major step that is part of our vision to establish a manufacturing base at Chaxhill with a zero carbon footprint. One lagoon based behind the factory will deal with all our waste while the double lagoon system at the side of the factory processing all our wash down and rain water. This will pass through the double lagoon system and then pass through a filter system that will enable us to reuse this water back in the factory and make us totally water self-sufficient.

Since the last newsletter we have had the horse meat scandal but things it would seem are no better in the fish industry. In my last newsletter I had a rant about the mis-selling of eel under the apparent disguise of the 'sustainable eel' certification. The producer concerned has had their knuckles wrapped and promises never to be naughty again but the damage to the integrity of the brand has been tarnished and I now believe that our European partners of the standard, notably those in Holland plan to use their own standard which has more ‘commercial' opportunities! (Sustainable qualifications will be less onerous and taxing). The blurring of standards once again puts the end user in a difficult position of understanding the standard they are buying. Please, please insist on whoever your supplier is, that they use a SEG approved farmed eel it’s the only surefire way we have of preserving the species.

Mislabelling, we are told in a BBC report issued today, shows that cheap fish is being substituted for more expensive species. In Europe a quarter to a third of fish products tested turned out not to be what was described on the packet or menu. In New York restaurants, the study showed that 25% of the fish served was not what was described on the menu. Researchers believe there is widespread deception going on. Dr Stefano Mariani, a biologist from Salford University stated that the mislabelling in Britain and Ireland seemed to be concentrated on a few fish producers who handled fish supplies that consistently proved to be mislabelled. His findings discovered that cod was being substituted for fish such as pollack and Vietnamese pangasius which is farmed in Southeast Asia. Scientists studying these issues believe that this mislabelling is too widespread to be an accident, its fraud.

Which brings me nicely on to the subject of wild salmon and sea trout. I recently got involved in a bit of a twitter spate with respected London fishmonger Rex Goldsmith over the arrival of one the season’s first sea trout. Well done Rex for getting your hands on that one, but what was disappointing was that this was an untagged wild fish. Now in Scotland they may have a more relaxed attitude towards tagging on certain rivers but here in England and Wales it's taken far more seriously. As a restaurant or hotel serving a wild fish you must be able to prove, if the Environment Agency makes an inspection, that your fish was legally caught. The only guarantee is to buy a tagged fish. The Environment Agency know that prosecution of hotels and restaurants has been instrumental in reducing incidences of poaching and with fines of £2500 it’s definitely 'Buyer Beware'.

Well the elver season started on the 15th February (much too early for the River Severn and Wales) and in early March as usual some very good catches were recorded on the River Parrett and then it snowed. Since then we have seen little or no activity as a result of defrosting snow the river temperatures have dropped to below 4 degrees Celsius and the elvers have hankered down in the Bristol Channel waiting for temperatures to rise before hitching a ride on the tide. There is a golden opportunity now for the Environment Agency to gain some goodwill by moving the dates for the season into the middle of June and give some of the restocking and conservation bodies a chance to access fish for their projects. Our 'Tanks in Schools' programme being one of them, not forgetting that last year over 70% of catches on the River Severn went for restocking. What we really need the Environment Agency to do is not extend the season, but move the fishing season in Wales, and on the Severn to a period when fishing can take place. This is a perfect example of how the EA working with local fishermen's knowledge can forge a relationship of trust and respect.

The fortunate angler to catch the first salmon of the season on a fly on the River Wye is usually presented with a bottle of Pol Roger Champagne to mark the occasion. So it would have been churlish not to have had a bash which Horace and I duly attempted. It was an exceptionally cold morning and all efforts to frighten a fish onto our line came to nothing. Horace managed to hook a Canada goose which we eventually managed to release and also experienced a take which had us excited for a few moments. One thing's for sure, we will be back.

To mark the end of the elver season in May and the start of the wild salmon fishery on the River Severn we have decided to have a celebratory festival on Saturday and Sunday 25th-26th May in the field next to the smokery. We plan to construct an outside kitchen and theatre where various invited chefs will do recipe demos, There will be plenty of food and drink and live music in the shape of The Wurzels. We are still planning all the details but it's hoped that it will be a great couple of family days with lots of activities that should appeal to all ages. For latest info check our website and festival twitter feed @SevWyeRiverFest

More riverbank news soon.

Dai Francis
Ambassador without Portfolio