Why did the chicken cross the road?

Well, it wasn't because it was being chased by a salmon.

The dilemma and top topic of conversation behind closed doors of the major players in salmon farming is what feed should I be using? Hydrolysed chicken feather meal? I have a vision of readers re-reading that and reeling back in horror. CHICKEN FEATHERS, tell me that isn't so! In the US, Canada and particularly Chile this is the preferred feed of choice. Here in Europe consumer perception and concerns has meant that European salmon producers have been reluctant to change from their vegetable and micro-nutrients feed. Although this chicken feather meal is proclaimed safe and legal, our memories are still raw from the BSE disaster that hit the UK some years ago as a result of feed cross contamination. I've also never heard of any incidents of wild salmon gorging themselves on seagulls. I'm sure wild salmon would not find chickens any more palatable.

It’s also worth noting it’s not illegal to import fish from outside the EU that has been feed in this way. Norwegian, Scottish and Irish producers have been complaining for some time that their products have to compete unfairly on price, particularly in the French market where the sale of Chilean salmon is widespread. The recent price increases in salmon and the search for a cheap product means that Chilean salmon is in circulation here in the UK. Only recently one large Scottish smoked salmon producer was de-listed by Morrisons after an audit, when it discovered they were using Chilean salmon in the smoked salmon products it supplied them with.

As a result of sustainability and the strain on fish meal resources the need for an alternative feed grows. Reported in the industry’s on-line magazine ‘Undercurrent News’ last January, Nick Joy, co-founder and general manager of Loch Duart salmon farms said “It is our job to work out what is appropriate to use, and not to use.” He then went on to say “Since it has become obvious for some time that limitations of supply of fish-derived products were going to become worse and worse, we have been researching alternatives that would be acceptable within our principles”. He concluded “Without going into long and detailed debate, feather meal is one of the options we could use, but not as a major ingredient.”

We as a company have grave concerns if feather meal becomes acceptable and when chatting to Steve Scott, our Quality Assurance Manager, he illustrated his fears by explaining to me with this simple analogy. When a pathologist does an autopsy on a dead body he takes a strand of hair from the deceased’s body. From this he can determine what lifestyle choices this person made, what sort of diet they had, what drugs or medication they were using, what age or sex they were; all sorts of information lies dormant there. And in much the same way all that information is present in a chicken feather and knowing some of the life style choices an industrially produced chicken has had imposed on him makes me feel certain that however much care goes into sterilizing, heat treating or hydrolysing, guarantees cannot be made that trace elements of antibiotics or medication will not be present. I'm glad I'm in Steve’s team.

Our No. 1 salmon that we recommend is Var, produced in the Faroe Islands, north of the Shetlands. The unique selling point about this fish is it has never been treated with chemicals or antibiotics. As the sole UK distributor of this product we have been able to manage to whom and how it is sold and for many chefs it is now the only salmon product, fresh or smoked, that they will use. It’s fed a diet of mainly fish meal and fish oil and we truly believe this to be the best farmed fish in the world.

Congratulations to Mike Crates of Ashtons Cardiff on winning the National Federation of Fishmongers British Fish Craft Championship®. You can’t knock a man who keeps on trying, it was Mike‘s 41st attempt at the title without any previous success which means he will definitely be competing again next year to defend his title. Our own ‘Born to Fillet’ Dave Preest was beaten by one point in the Salmon Filleting class and I'm sure the NFF title is one that he can win in the next few years - practise, practise and more practise.