Prior to the 20th century most trout eaten in Europe were caught direct from the wild and the few large-scale trout hatcheries that existed were used to re-stock rivers for fishing. Until the end of the Second World War the UK’s trout industry consisted of less than 20 such re-stocking farms.
In the early 1900s a Danish trout farmer developed a pioneering farm design where fresh water flowed through each pond radically improving fish yield and fish health and therefore reducing the challenge from diseases. This breakthrough signified the beginning of the commercial trout-for-table farming industry.
A Danish entrepreneur opened the first “table trout” farm in Lincolnshire in 1950 and in the following 60 years the industry has grown to its current size of almost 290 trout farms producing around 17,000 tonnes per annum.
While Brown Trout (Salmo trutta) is indigenous to the UK, and were the first fish farmed, the majority of today’s farmers produce Rainbow Trout (Oncorhyncus mykiss) which were introduced from North America. Rainbow Trout are more tolerant of warm water than the Brown variety, grow faster and are often slightly larger in size.
The artificial propagation of fish was established by the ancient Chinese who collected fish eggs by placing mats in streams or ponds and allowing the fish to spawn on them. The mats with the fertilised eggs were then removed and sold for use in ponds and flooded rice fields.
The wealthy Roman General Lucullus practised another form of fish culture in the first century BC. He dug canals from his ponds to the sea into which freshwater streams flowed. When spawning, sea-fish that need to breed in freshwater passed through the canals into his ponds and stocked them with their young. Floodgates prevented their return to the sea.
In the 14th century, a French monk, Dom Pinchon, discovered the art of artificially fertilising trout eggs and then hatching them by burying them in the sand in wooden boxes.