Prue Leith

Should you ever eat wild salmon?

When I say ‘Scottish salmon’ what do you see? I bet it’s a muscular 20-pounder flashing up a river, or a silver grilse leaping out of the water for the sheer joy of it. I bet it’s not a flabby beast, covered in sea lice, possibly half-choked by micro-jellyfish in its gills, living in waters so polluted that the seabed beneath, contaminated by salmon poo, is lifeless.

Fish kept in cages in comparatively calm loch waters do not get the exercise they need to firm up their flesh. They look good, pink and pretty, but their raw flesh is so soft you can spread it like butter. Fish kept in open sea cages and swimming against rough seas will have firmer flesh, but these farms are perhaps worse: when seals or storms tear open the cages, thousands of salmon escape. And they threaten the wild salmon, by spreading disease or interbreeding in the rivers.

Should you eat wild salmon? Well, you are unlikely to find one, or to be able to afford it if you could. Fishing restrictions and low stocks make them almost unobtainable. If you should be lucky enough to catch a fish in Scotland, you have to put it back.

Salmon farming is the answer. Obviously standards vary, but almost all farms are hugely successful. Salmon sales doubled in England last year with supermarket salmon fillets now a household staple. A packet of salmon fillets costs less than a cappuccino.

Forty per cent of Scotland’s food exports are farmed salmon. It is Britain’s most valuable food export. It’s also healthy, easily digestible, low in saturated fats, high in omega-3 and takes minimal energy to cook.

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