Friday, 23 July 2010

Wild Atlantic Salmon

These are the sad remnants of two very rare and very fine fish - wild Atlantic salmon caught in the traditional way off the coast of Ormsaigbeg. The remains of the one on the right weighed over 13 pounds, so the whole fish was far more. Both have been attacked by seals.

Dochie Cameron has been catching salmon off Ardnamurchan for more decades than he cares to remember. As a young man he worked for Fascadale Fisheries, whose boats went out from Fascadale Bay and Kilchoan slipway - this picture (courtesy of Catriona MacMillan) shows salmon nets drying below the Ferry Stores in the 1960s.

When the Fisheries' equipment was sold off, Dochie bought nets and a coble - a salmon fishing boat - while Donald Houston of Ardnamurchan Estate acquired the salmon fishing rights round this coast. For the last few years, Dochie has been the only remaining fisherman catching salmon the traditional way, using nets fixed to the shore. During the short season Dochie must check his nets twice a day, five days a week - there is no fishing on Saturday and Sunday. The photo below shows him going out in the coble, with the Sound of Mull and the entrance to Loch Sunart behind him.

When he worked for Fascadale Fisheries it was not uncommon to land 35 salmon in a single haul. In the whole of 2008 Dochie landed two whole salmon, in 2009 eight, as well as others which the seals had eaten. There are very few wild salmon left, but those that do return from their long migration are mercilessly harried by the local seal population. And the seals are clever: they've learned how to break into Dochie's net, where the salmon are at their mercy.

The salmon he lands go the Estate, who send them away to be thinly sliced, smoked, and despatched to the finest restaurants in London. But the declining population, the depredations of the seals, and the sheer hard work required mean that this is another centuries-old Highland industry which cannot survive.

Many thanks to Sue and Dochie for the story. More vintage photos in the WAVP collection here.

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