HISTORY OF FISHING THE FIRTH
Fishing is one of the oldest industries in this area. Around 8,000 years ago, hunter-gatherers used temporary campsites on the coast to exploit the seasonal abundance of fish and shellfish.
The annual migrations of salmon and sea trout up-river to spawn provides a seasonal bounty. From medieval times salmon were salted and exported to Europe, as far as Venice! In 1780 ice was first used in shipping salmon, greatly extending the export season, and a number of ice ponds and icehouses were built. However, by the mid-19th century, concerns about salmon stocks led to traps being banned from the inner firths. Today, rod and line fishings on rivers like the Spey attracts anglers from around the world.
The earliest sea fishery in the firth was probably for cod and other white fish, caught using long lines. Local women gathered shellfish, mainly mussels and lugworms, to bait up to 600 hooks per line. some of the prolific mussel beds of the inner firths disappeared, but today the Tain Mussel fishery is the largest in Scotland.
Gathering periwinkles, cockles and razor shells ('spoots') from the shore and potting for lobster and crabs and traditional fisheries that still exist today. Exports of 70,000 lobsters were made from Portmahomack to London in one year in the 1790s! Trawling for Norway lobsters (scampi) and scallops have become the most valuable fisheries within the firth and Buckie has an active shellfishing fleet.
Herring and sprat migrate into the Moray Firth in the summer months. In the 17th century, men went out overnight in small open boats to harvest these 'silver darlings' when they came in close to shore. With the developments of drift nets and preservation in salt, the firth's herring fishing boomed. For every fishing boat the herring curers hired, they would take on two women to gut the fish and one to pack them in salt. These women worked so quickly that they could fill a barrel with 700 fish in ten minutes! As boats became bigger and safer fishermen could follow the herring migration, making perilous journeys through the treacherous Pentland Firth to the Western Isles.
In 1808, Pulteneytown, now part of Wick, was built to house crofters prepared to learn to fish. By the mid-19th century, it was the most important herring port in Europe and the Fishing ports of Buckie and Fraserburgh had also developed. In autumn, over 1,000 boats travelled south to fill the harbours of Yarmouth and Lowestoft! After 1892, trawlers were excluded from the whole of the Moray Firth, to protect the livelihood of line-fishing communities. In the early 1900's, the more profitable steam drifters began to replace the 'Fifies' and 'Zulus' but World War 1 destroyed the established European market and although the industry recovered after World War 2, it never regained the glamour and excitement of the great sailing luggers.
Local boats continue to fish for herring and mackerel, white fish and deeper water flatfish far from their home ports but loyally return for supplies and services. The modern fishing industry and associated onshore activities such as fish processing have an important economic impact on the coastal settlements in the Moray Firth.