Wild salmon conservation measures recently undertaken by Inland Fisheries have been highly successful and in 2009, following three closed seasons, snap-net fishermen were allowed return to the River Nore to catch a small quota of fish for a short 12 week season (mid-May-mid Aug). Each year since, due to healthy stock numbers, the quota has been increased and and there are now 30 commercial licences operating on the Nore.
But when local snap-net fisherman Mick Murphy returned to fishing in 2009 he, like others in the community, found the traditional buyers for his fish had disappeared. He and his wife Trisha took the enterprising step of contacting smokehouses and local hotels and restaurants in an attempt to find a direct market for the wonderful wild salmon, available for just 2 months a year. The Burren Smokehouse in Co Clare and BrookLodge Hotel in Co Wicklow were quick to come on board and soon took most of the salmon.
In order to provide a constant supply, Trisha registered for a 80% of the river Nore cotmen now sell to her. The snap net fishermen have held fast to their tradition which they are immensely proud of and, through their determination and enterprising spirit, Mick and Trisha Murphy, have helped bring the wonderful wild Irish salmon, so much part of our ancient food heritage, back to our tables. Euro-Toques Ireland recognised their achievements, by selecting the Murphys for a Euro-Toques Food Award in 2013.
Snap-net fishing is thought to date back more than a thousand years. It involves a pair of fishermen in two small wooden boats known as cots, stretching a wide net across the river between their boats which they ‘snap’ shut when they feel the pull of a salmon, quickly and skilfully paddling their canoes together to trap and land the fish. It is a tradition passed down from father to son, which takes many years to perfect.
Salmon drift-netting at sea in the 1970s and 80s meant such a dramatic fall in salmon numbers that this ancient trade almost died out. By the time the commercial salmon fishery was closed in 2006, very few salmon were being caught in the snap-nets and the number of skilled fishermen had dwindled.
However, thanks to the success of recent conservation measures, the ancient craft of cot-making has been revived and young men who had never fished before are now learning the skill, just as Mick Murphy did when he was a teenager.
So, when you are fortunate enough to see Murphy Fisheries salmon listed on a menu, thank your lucky stars and waste no time in placing your order.