SALMON AND SEA TROUT
Salmon are present in the majority of rivers draining into the Moray Firth. These are exploited by rod and line inland and netting stations along the coast.
The History of Salmon Fishing in the Firth
Salmon were originally taken as a food source with the earliest fishermen around the Firth using a variety of nets and traps to catch them, with the two most common being sweep nets and cruives. Cruives were weirs built across rivers, with traps set in them to catch fish as they moved up stream. Sweep nets harvested the fish whose up stream migration had been impeded by the cruive. Most of the rivers and streams draining into the Firth supported cruive fisheries, and the cruives on the Beauly continue to be maintained.
In medieval times salmon were shipped from ports around the Firth to London and further afield to Europe. This trade had a fairly short season until salt and ice were used to preserve the salmon during their transportation. As a consequence of this activity the Moray Firth has a rich heritage of tradition and artefacts associated with the early net and cruive fisheries for salmon. In many instances this carries through to the present day with the net fisheries which are still operating in the Firth having been in the same family for generations.
During the 1800's the development of Victorian sporting estates saw the creation of rod fisheries on the rivers which flow into the Firth. This coincided with the formation of District Salmon Fishery Boards which were established to protect and develop fisheries for salmon and sea trout.
When the catch statistics were first collected in 1952, 84,773 salmon were caught by nets in the Moray Firth salmon district and 11,675 were caught by anglers. In 1996, the last year for which catch statistics are available, a quite different situation pertained with only 1,203 having been taken by the nets and 18,608 taken by the rods, of which 1,246 were returned by anglers to the river. These statistics show a significant reduction in the total number of salmon caught in over this period, and a shift in from the majority of salmon being caught from nets to rods. Salmon caught by rod and line have a considerable economic value in terms of revenue generated from sporting and leisure activities and ancillary service businesses.
Whilst some of the reduction in the overall catch is due to the reduction in the number of active netting stations in the Firth area, there is strong evidence from elsewhere that the downward trend also reflects an overall decline in the abundance of Atlantic salmon throughout their range.
Many factors have been implicated in this decline including acidification, habitat degradation, predation and over-exploitation, although in recent years much attention has focused on the impact of climate change and its role in the enhanced marine mortality rates which have been reported in recent years. Despite these changes the River Spey is likely to be considered for the highest European Nature Conservation accolade for the strength of its salmon population.