In 1962, Capt. James Pocklington of the Royal Canadian Air Force was focused on speckled trout—specifically, shipping 300,000 trout eggs from New Brunswick to repopulate the barren rivers of Sardinia. What began as an unlikely expression of gratitude endures, 50 years later, on the plates of Italians.
Pocklington, now 79, joined the RCAF during the Korean War, and by the end of the decade was stationed in Italy as the chief administration officer for a Canadian unit in Sardinia. Canadian airmen stationed in France and Germany for NATO would train at a base near the town of Decimomannu on the picturesque Mediterranean island. On their days off, staff would head to a lake to unwind, where they were welcomed by the locals. One day a resident told Pocklington how a postwar development project by the Rockefeller Foundation to rid Sardinia’s streams and rivers of malarial mosquitoes had also killed off most of the trout.
Pocklington, an avid fly fisher, didn’t know much about fish hatcheries, but he did think Canada “had the best trout in the world.” He wrote to the Minister of Fisheries, requesting a Canadian gesture to thank the Italians for their hospitality. Remarkably, they approved the idea and identified a hatchery in Saint John, N.B., with trout eggs. “Then I was asked, ‘How many do you want?’” Pocklington recalls. “I said, ‘How about 300,000?’ So that’s how we ended up with 300,000, kind of off the cuff.” In three crates packed with dry ice and four inches of foam rubber, the eggs made their 9,000-km journey by plane under the supervision of a Canadian fisheries expert. A whopping 250,000 eggs hatched in Sardinia, and a new commercial fishery was born. “I was incredibly proud of this Canadian contribution,” says Pocklington.
“Ten years later, I made a visit back to Sardinia with my family, and we were all so enthralled that the trout were thriving, and even larger than those found in Canada. During the trip, we stopped at a high-end restaurant in Milan, where we tasted those Canadian trout. I was proud to tell our five sons, two of whom were born in Sardinia, about our dream that had been fulfilled. Now one can fish in the streams of Sardinia and catch an excellent speckled trout or, at a restaurant in Italy, feast on a fine Canadian fish.”