Salmon Bag Net Fishery in Cuil Bay, NW Scotland

28th August 2012

Sandy MacLachlan has been fishing for salmon in Loch Linnhe NW Scotland since he left school, using the set bag net style fishery. Sandy's father and his relatives before him have been involved in this family fishing business for many generations.

There is evidence of a salmon bag net station on this spot for over 400 years. This is an important part of our Scottish heritage and as such is something which you would hope would be respected and encouraged.

Salmon stocks have shown signs of recovery over recent years after a decline during the 80s and 90s. There are many theories regarding the decline at that time, including over-fishing at sea and the rapid expansion in these years of salmon fish farms.

The Atlantic salmon Salmo Salar is a migratory fish which spawns in river gravel beds high in the Scottish hills. During the cold winter months the eggs are laid and fertilised in hollows in the gravel beds of fresh water rivers. They hatch and become fry , then develop into parr and then into smolts. After 2 to 3 years in the river system, they return to the open sea and migrate north to feed and grow further, some travelling as far as the coast of Greenland and the Canadian Arctic. After 1 to 3 years they return. Those returning after only one year are known as grilse and the cycle begins again.

We met Sandy towards the end of his short netting season and watched him going about his work executing the ancient craft of the bag net fisherman. This is a timeless activity, happening amongst some of the UK's most remote and spectacular scenery. The fixed engine bag net is essentially a trap, a leader net runs into two or three chambers which trap the fish. Fish can be kept or released alive as required making this a very selective fishery.

Sandy fishes on his own and he also makes all his own nets and equipment. To supplement the salmon fishing he also hauls about 400 langoustine/prawn pots. These he also makes himself, usually these days buying the frames but still netting and covering the pots. This is done in the winter when all the gear is ashore.

In the past there were many netting stations round the coast and netting constituted the majority of the salmon catch. Now most fish are caught by sports fishermen on rod and line, with only a few netting stations remaining. The sports fishing interests want to eliminate all commercial netting.

It is very sad that our Heritage title is not considered an important enough part of our culture to warrant saving it.

For the time being Sandy is able to continue with his enviable lifestyle of which he is very proud. It is a way of life that he really enjoys. Let's hope his knowledge and skills can be retained as long as possible and that the four hundred year tradition in Cuil Bay will not disappear.

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And don't forget to watch these short videos of the net in action.

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