The spring netting of salmon by traditional “net and coble” fishing at Berwick has been questioned by Andrew Douglas-Home, in his weekly angling blog Tweedbeats.
While anglers on the Tweed are expected to operate a voluntary “catch and release” policy on salmon to conserve stocks on the river, the River Tweed Wild Salmon Company, run by Michael Hindhaugh at the Gardo netting station in the estuary at Berwick, is allowed to kill and sell on the fish, due to an 18th century law which stated that the net and coble method – using small boats – was the only legal way to bring Tweed salmon to market.
Mr Hindhaugh began the company in 2015 as a social enterprise to ensure the continuation of the traditional method as part of the town’s heritage. Groups can pay to take part in the catch, and if desired, the fish caught will be prepared into a dish served at a local retaurant.
However, anglers, who can pay thousands of pounds for the right to fish the river, claim that the practice is detrimental to salmon numbers by killing the vulnerable spring stock.
According to figures released by the River Tweed Commission, there was a 15% drop on the previous season in overall salmon catch in 2017, when 6,577 fish were caught by rod and line and 426 by net. 83% of the total rod catch was returned.
Mr Douglas Home, who was rewarded with an OBE in 2013 for services to fishing and Scottish heritage, said in his blog: “Quite how the Gardo netting station can continue to justify killing any salmon they catch from 1st April, many will fail to comprehend ... except to conclude that, if they do, they must want to make money regardless of the effect on a stock which nobody else thinks can withstand exploitation.”
He added: “As far as one knows, they have ignored all appeals for constraint, to start killing salmon only in June, once the vulnerable spring run is over ... one can only hope that, at some point, they will get their comeuppance for their disregard for all conservation principles.”
However, the Scottish Government, which grants the licence to net from April 1, insists that salmon stocks are healthy in the Tweed.
A spokesperson said: “We have undertaken a comprehensive assessment of the salmon stocks in 171 rivers and groups of rivers across Scotland to determine whether the exploitation of salmon is sustainable in the 2018 fishing season. “For the River Tweed, our assessment shows that the exploitation of salmon remains sustainable and the river has been given Category 1 status for the season.
This allows for the retention of salmon caught by rod & line, or by netting in the Tweed and all inland waters as defined in relevant regulations.
“The measures we are taking strike the right balance between conservation of the species for the benefit of future generations and the interests of those who fish for salmon today.”
We contacted Mr Hindhaugh, but he declined to comment or answer our questions.