Salmon Netting in the Moray Firth

The art of trapping salmon and other fish has tested man’s ingenuity for many centuries, and there is evidence that fish traps were in use more than 6,000 years in the Moray Firth. Examples of old fish weirs or yairs can be seen along the north side of the Beauly Firth and another was recently excavated at Ardersier. These were often curved lengths of stone walling, heightened by wicker fences, which trapped fish as the tide receded.

Modern Stake Netting follows these same principles, but uses a wall of netting, supported by tall stakes which stretch out to sea at right angles from the shore. There a are now no Stake Nets known to be operating in the Moray Firth, and what little commercial netting of salmon (and sea trout) remains is done either by net and coble or bag netting.

Net & Coble or Sweep Netting
A coble is a small, blunt ended boat, specifically designed to assist a single-handed oarsman to feed out the net as he rows. At least three people are required to set and haul in the net. Fishing is carried out on rivers or estuaries. The shore end of the net is given to "the huntsman". The boatman rows out from shore paying out the net as he goes in a semi-circle, until the other e end, or "pole" end is within the semi circle Attached to the pole end is a rope which is long enough to reach back to shore. Once ashore, the rope is hauled in, either by hand or by winch. Sweep netting is carried out in the inner Firths. Nowadays, main sweep netting stations are at Easter Fearn, Dornoch Bridge, Rosemarkie, Longman and Alturlie Point.

Bag Nets or Fixed Nets
These nets are fixed in position by anchors which run out from m the shore. There is a flap loosely fixed in the top of the floating net which the fisherman undoes to empty the net into the boat. Bag-netting is carried out in the outer Firth. It has declined to a great degree, with only a few stations currently operating in the Moray Firth, including Helmsdale, Brora, Balintore and Portmahomack.

Many of the former netting stations have been bought out by the Atlantic Salmon Trust. The numbers of both netting stations and salmon caught in the Moray Firth have declined dramatically over the last 50 years. In 2001, the numbers of salmon netted were less than 2% of the 1952 catch. Indeed nowadays, most salmon are caught by rod and line.

Sandy Patience, Fishermens Association Ltd, Avoch