The organic salmon used by Connemara Smokehouse is raised at Clare Island sea-farm and other remote and exposed salmon sites on the West Coast of Ireland. The location of these marine sites is recognised as the most exposed in Western Europe.
This exposed, westerly coastline is swept by strong tidal currents, high waves, has a 1A rating for water quality and is a place where the organic salmon thrive in the wild, pristine waters. Clare Island is where organic salmon was first produced in 1995. It is the knowledge and expertise of the people that have given Clare Island a reputation for producing the finest quality organic salmon in the world.
The exceptional water conditions are of crucial importance in producing some of the world’s finest organic salmon. The organic salmon are reared in large cages which allows them to follow their natural shoaling behaviour and provides additional control over their proximity to other salmon, in line with organic farming concepts. The Salmon are stocked at low densities, with only two fish per tonne of water, which means there is a lot of space to swim freely.
The lifecycle of organic salmon mirrors what happens to their counterparts in the wild. They start life in freshwater as an egg which is then hatched and, after about a year, grown out to a fish about the size of your finger (smolt). At this stage, they are transferred to seawater and from there they are hand-fed daily with organic feed based on natural ingredients from sustainable sources and free from genetically modified organisms. The fishmeal in the organic feed is only derived from the by-products of fish which is processed for human consumption. No artificial colourings are used, as the feed contains herring, mackerel, plankton and shrimp (source of pigment in the diet of wild salmon), along with a Phaffia Yeast which ferments to give the fish their natural colour.
The high tidal exchange rates in the Clare Island area ensure that oceanic water continually flushes through the pens. The strong currents against which the fish are compelled to swim result in fish with firm flesh and lower than average fat content. At the end of their lives, Clare Island salmon will have swum the equivalent of nearly 14,500 miles, which is about the same distance wild salmon would have covered. The conditions under which the salmon is reared are very close to its wild counterparts.
The way the staff at Clare Island works is unique, they operate a fully integrated supply chain, where each stage of the salmon’s lifecycle has complete traceability. The fish can be traced back to the hatchery where the life of the salmon began by using the customer’s batch code that is on the fish box. There is a well-boat to safely transfer the salmon to the required location in order to ensure continuity of supply. Every stage of the product process is audited annually by the independent organic authorities, as well as the quality and hygiene certifying agents, to ensure that they are continually working to meet the requirements as set out in the strict governing standards.
The Benefits Of Clare Island Organic Fish:
- Growing sites are located in deep seawater
- Growing sites have strong tidal currents
- It is an environment where water is richly oxygenated
- High feed quality
- Stocking density
- Full traceability
- Continuity of supply
- Highest quality product
- Team of experts
- Respect for animal welfare
- Respect for the environment
Traditionally Sourced Wild Atlantic Salmon
Connemara Smokehouse is run by the Roberts family and they have sourced the finest wild Atlantic seafood for three generations. To conserve stocks, Irish salmon is only fished in May, June and July each year. They are fished in a very old, traditional style of fishing called draught net fishing. This involves three to four fishermen waiting to spot the fish, then trying to row out around them placing the net in the water and returning to the shore to hand haul the net in.
Known as the ‘king of fish’, wild salmon has a flesh that is firm, meaty and pink/reddish in colour, thanks to the pigment in its natural diet of insects, sand eels, capelin, herring and crustaceans. Wild salmon are native to the world’s two biggest oceans and the rivers draining into them.
The Atlantic Ocean has only one species called Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar). Whereas the Pacific Ocean has multiple species:
- Pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha)
- Chum (O. keta)
- Sockeye (O. nerka)
- Coho (O. kisutch)
- Chinook (O. tschawytscha)
The Life Cycle of Wild Atlantic Salmon
Wild Atlantic salmon vary in appearance during their lifetime. Until the early 19th century the life cycle was not understood and documented. Parr and smolt were assumed to be different species of fish.
Irish salmon are Atlantic salmon, spending their juvenile phase in rivers before migrating to sea to grow. To complete their life cycle, they must return to their river of origin to spawn. Fish with this life cycle are called anadromous.
The eggs (ova) begin developing right after fertilisation and will hatch after about 180 days at normal water temperatures. The fertilised, orange, pea-sized eggs will not become ‘eyed’ (i.e., the eyes of the embryo can be seen as two black dots) until January-February, before hatching in March-April.
Just-hatched salmon are called alevins and still have a yolk sac (-) containing the remains of food supplied from the egg – attached to their bodies. When most of their yolk sac has been consumed, the alevins become active and begin their journey up through the gravel. They soon grow all eight fins, which will be used to maintain their position in fast-flowing streams and to manoeuvre in the water.
The small fish must rise to the surface of the water to take a gulp of air with which they fill their swim bladder, giving them neutral buoyancy. This makes it easier to swim and hold their position in the water column. This critical period is therefore referred to as ‘swim-up’ and exposes the young to dangerous predators for the first time. Once they begin to swim freely (three to six weeks after hatching), they are called fry. Their survival is temperature is dependant and heavily influenced by predation and competition for food.
Fry quickly develop into parr with vertical stripes and spots for camouflage. They feed on aquatic insects and grow for one to three years in their natal stream. Once the parr have grown to 10 – 24 cm in body length, they undergo a physiological pre-adaptation to life in seawater while still in freshwater, by smolting. In addition to the internal changes in the salt-regulating mechanisms of the body, the appearance and behaviour of the fish also change. The smolts become silvery and change from swimming against the current to moving with it. This adaptation prepares the smolt for its journey to the oceans.
In spring, large numbers of smolts leave Irish rivers to migrate north along the slope current into the rich feeding grounds of the Norwegian Sea and the greater expanse of the North Atlantic Ocean. Here they feed primarily on fish (piscivorous) such as capelin (Mallotus villosus), herring (Alosa spp.), and sand eel (Ammodytes spp). As they grow, fewer predators are able to feed on them. Their rate of growth is therefore critical to survival.
Most of these salmon migrate to feeding areas off Greenland, whilst some may remain in coastal waters within the influence of the rivers in which they were born. Some Irish salmon, called grilse will reach maturity after one year at sea and return to their river in summertime weighing from 1 to 4kg. If it takes two or more years to mature, the salmon will return considerably earlier in the year and as larger fish at 3 to 15kg – becoming a highly prized but also a very rare fish.
Salmon exhibit a remarkable ‘homing instinct’, by which a very high proportion are able to locate their river of origin using the earth’s magnetic field, the chemical smell of their river and pheromones (chemical substances released by other salmon in the river). A journey of up to 5000km makes salmon ‘the king of fish’. Some stay at sea longer and these are the big fish that can weigh up to 43 lbs/19.5kg (our company record) or more. Summer catch rates for fish in the wild are very low, but sufficient to sustain the population if not over-harvested.
Having spawned, the salmon are referred to as ‘kelts’. Weakened by not having eaten any food since their arrival in freshwater and losing energy in a bid to reproduce successfully they are susceptible to disease and predators. Mortality after spawning can be significant, especially for males but some do survive and commence their epic journey again. In exceptional cases, some Irish salmon are known to have spawned up to three times!