Spring is here but pollan is off the menu

Pollan may not be a fish many are familiar with, it’s actually from the Coregonus family and is a freshwater white fish similar to herring usually found in large lakes across Europe. I didn’t realise until recently that we even have a large population in Bala Lake in North Wales. As is the tradition in Wales it has its own unique name Gwyniad - sounds quite poetic. I’m not predicting pollan is going to start appearing on UK menus soon but it is a delicacy that is sought after by many East European countries and Alpine regions of France and Switzerland.

Loch Neagh in Northern Ireland, often described as one of the largest natural fish farms has one of the main commercial fisheries that supports this demand. Unfortunately the future of this sustainable fishery is under threat after the NI government implemented a 1st March to 1st June blanket ban on all commercial fishing of pollan and trout with only 7 days’ notice. With no prior warning this puts the viability of this fishery now in jeopardy. Severn and Wye has a had close association with eel co-operative fishery also located on the Loch and elvers caught on the River Severn have always been part of the annual restocking programme on the Loch, and fishermen are now worried that restrictions on the eel fishery although probably necessary will be implemented without consultation. In a newsletter I wrote in July 2012 about Nobel prize winner and environmentalist Elinor Ostrom and her theory “Governing The Commons” (link Bottoms Up!) true sustainability is only achievable when the resource is managed by those affected locally, economically and environmentally and not by some distant government department far removed from the situation. It needs a ‘Bottom up’ approach.

A shock headline in the press last week “Deadly bug discovered in salmon” forced a smoke salmon producer in the South East of England to recall a large batch of smoked salmon they had produced as a result of above normal levels of listeria. The ‘L’ word is something the industry doesn’t openly discuss but actually it isn’t something we should ignore or imagine that won’t happen to us. Educating our customers and staff and understanding listeria and the conditions in which this bacteria can thrive are part of preventing these sorts of problems.

Listeria is in fact present in rivers and seawater and naturally present in many fish species, including wild and farmed salmon. These trace levels of the listeria bacteria can easily be managed by our natural immune system, it’s when they are given the chance to grow and multiply that things get serious.

So what are the conditions that we can control? Well having a Quality Assurance Department that oversees and polices all aspects of production is essential. We sample test all fish that is delivered into the factory, and a system of batch testing as we process the fish continues as the product passes through various stages of production. Temperature is also critical and operating in the factory at 4 degrees C is very important. It’s all boring stuff, but correct clothing - overshoes, boots, hand sanitisers, surgical gloves, are all part of good practise. It’s no longer feasible to take the public for factory tours but we do have two large window screens that look into both factory production areas that give the public a very good idea of the processes involved in making the products that we offer.

I would hope that all those involved in smoking salmon, whatever size of business do some sort of periodic product testing, but the one thing that we should be all keen to resist is the food service industry’s pressure to extend the life of the product.

Salmon Prices
Prices have moved pretty much as I predicted in the last newsletter. There was a brief fall while the market caught up with itself but prices are pressing the highs again.

Weakness in Sterling over Brexit means even more pain.

Up and further increases on the way. Can’t see any reason for any price weakness until July/August.

Sea Trout
I left the best ‘till last, imagining while I was writing that the phone would ring with news of the first sea trout caught and on its way. Having spoken to fishermen several times over the last few days, water has finally fallen to fishable levels and fish are expected but disappointingly nothing yet.

First fish on the Severn caught last week at the mouth of the Severn near Chepstow. I saw someone weigh in with 3 kilos who didn't catch anything last year so expecting another good season when it starts in earnest. Couple of chefs registered interest in going out after last newsletter so anyone else interested give me a call.