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Could ‘Smoked Wild Irish Pike’ be a win-win?

Outdoor Living

RAPACIOUS PREDATORS Notable trout waters like Lough Nafooey and the lakes around Carnacon could soon be completely given over to pike.

Pike are wreaking havoc on our game-fish stocks, but the fish are considered a delicacy on the continent

Country Sights and Sounds
John Shelley

As soon as I saw James’s face flushed with excitement I was reaching for my coat. “What is it? Tell me.”
“If you come with me,” he said, “I’ll show you a trout like you’ve never seen.”
“You’ve been down to Cong then,” I guessed. I didn’t want to steal his thunder altogether, but if there’s one place to find enormous trout at spawning time, it has to be in the Cong River.
These big fish are lake trout, at least some of which have entered the river to spawn alongside the salmon. Others, I have long suspected, are there for a different purpose.
Next spring a number of these fish will be caught by anglers. Most of them will be in poor condition, with the frayed fins and hollow bellies of spawned-out trout. But in among them will be other fish, deep shouldered, thick flanked specimens that have, I am convinced, been lured into the river by the scent of highly nutritious fish eggs.
We drove as far as the village and walked as much of the river as we were able. If you choose to do the same, remember that water is cold and the current is powerful – an unwary step might see you carried past Ashford Castle and into the depths of Lough Corrib in less time than it takes to tell.
The big trout that James had seen was nowhere to be found. We did see plenty of salmon though, and from the way they were moving I would say that spawning is well underway. And just downstream of the salmon we could see other, smaller trout, with their square tails and dark brown colouration, hovering in the flow and just waiting for their dinner to come by.
I guess trout have always taken the opportunity to share in such a banquet. With each of the hundreds of hen salmon present capable of producing thousands of eggs, there is great feasting to be had. Remember, each hen only has to produce two mature fish to replace herself and her mate, which will probably both die soon after spawning, so there is, along the way, plenty of spare protein.
The whole system is actually quite complex, with many other creatures depending on the annual provision of high-quality food as well. Otter and heron, kingfisher and cormorant and more will enjoy a salmon meal at some time through the year, and that is before we start on the many fish species that benefit from this wonderful creature.There is one of particular note, the cause of much controversy over many years: the pike.
Lough Corrib, into which the Cong River flows, holds many large pike. Some say their numbers are rising, and that they are beginning to place damaging pressure on stocks of game fish.
Some say the pike is indigenous; others say it was introduced into Irish waters as a food fish, perhaps in medieval times.
One thing we do know. These sharp-toothed rapacious predators are now the dominant species in many lakes where game fish were previously king. In fact, there are many waters where trout are no longer found, mainly due to the presence of pike.
What we are seeing, I believe, is a sort of downstream extinction of game fish as an expanding pike population consumes all that swims before it. It cannot be long before once-notable trout waters such as Lough Nafooey and the Carnacon Lakes are given over to pike altogether. And if pike should find their way into Beltra, Carrowmore, or the Delphi system the results would be nothing short of catastrophic.
What can be done? Some call for a vigorous culling programme. Others feel nature should run its course. James has a good idea.
“There’s an appetite for pike flesh,” he says. “There’s no sense in culling them and throwing them away. I’ve often eaten pike, and although I wouldn’t choose it before many other things it isn’t altogether bad. It might be nice smoked – the Germans and the French would go mad for it.”
He’s right with that. On the continent, pike is considered a delicacy, and Smoked Wild Irish Pike would certainly be a premium product.
“We know that pike spawn in the spring, in weedy places where there are few trout to be found. It would be an easy matter to net them,” James continued. “If it was a Fisheries project, the money earned could be used to clean up some of the streams that used to be trout and salmon nurseries. It’s easy. It’d work.’
Would it? Nothing is straightforward.