It is very hard to believe that in times gone by, wild salmon was the food of the poor people. Not only here in Ireland, but also in London for example, where the servants of rich households sighed when they had to eat wild salmon from the River Thames, again... Yes, in times gone by. Long gone by.
Today, Wild Irish Salmon is a rare delicacy. What changed in the meantime?
If we had to summarise it in just one word, it would be - overfishing.
Up until 2006, wild salmon in Ireland could be fished with big, long drift nets cast from trawlers off the Irish coasts.
When the salmon returned after years of roaming the Atlantic, they came back to lay their own eggs to the exact same rivers where they hatched. Unfortunately for them, most of the salmon was caught by the fairly big trawlers before they even made it into the estuaries of the rivers. No eggs were laid, the numbers of the wild salmon dwindled rapidly.
This worrying issue caused and/or accelerated two developments. One was the ban of drift net fishing which made sure that the wild salmon was actually able to return to the top of the rivers and reproduce.
The other one was the creation of aquaculture as a means to produce sustainable salmon. Today, there is only organically operated farms in Ireland. Their big cages are covered in nets so that no predators can get in and no salmon can get out. Read more on organically grown salmon
After years of absolutely no wild salmon fishing in Irish waters, small outfits were allowed again in 2011 to fish salmon under strict conditions. One of them is that they have to fish in the rivers, with traditional methods like snapnet fishing (see second picture from above). Also, fishing is only allowed during a few short months in summer, and only on certain days of the week. Numbers are heavily regulated, and every legally caught salmon has to have a tag with a registered number on it.
With the reduced number of available wild salmon, the demand is focusing on very few fish compared to what the quantities used to be. This of course brings with it an increase in prices.
The taste of Wild Smoked Salmon is another factor. Did you know that it can vary? Like in wines, you can sometimes taste the "terroir", or in this case the "riverroir" (we just made up that word) depending in what river the salmon was caught.
Great news - our new, interactive visitor centre, the "Taste the Atlantic - the Salmon Experience" is open to the public now, and you can learn all about the Irish Salmon. From the legend of the Salmon of Knowledge (interesting link between the name and the results of modern science!) coming alive in front of your eyes to the modern way of the salmon culture, you will be able to take selfies, do quizzes and jigsaw puzzles.