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Salmon Fishing

Aberdeen Harbour Board Fishing Committee reported a catch, 54,015 pounds of salmon worth £4,444.17s.9d. Two years later came the 600th anniversary of the grant of fishing rights by Robert the Bruce. This branch of trade has been long carried on with considerable spirit, and generally with good success, at Aberdeen, and the rents of the fishing's in the River Dee form an important item in the revenue of the town, and of several private proprietors. Later the fishing has been carried on to a considerable extent by stake-nets on the beach.

Salmon Fishing on the Dee - concessions were granted for fishing by net across the Dee and this was done by rowing the Dingy or Coble across the river and looping round up river before returning to the shore to check the content of the net.  This Pot and Ford Fishing location from upstream ofbelow the Rail Viaduct to the near the Duthie Park area  and looking towards the Auld Brig o' Dee.  The gravel bank later had a small Cafe built near it.  A fair sized chimney in the background in the Garthdee area. could be a water extraction pumping Station.

The Salmon fishing in this manner continued but re-designated a position below the new Victoria Bridge.

The number of men employed in salmon-fishing here were about 200, and the annual amount of wages paid about £3000. In an average season, the quantity of fish caught may be reckoned at 20,000 salmon, averaging 10lbs. each, and 40,000 grilses of 4lbs each, of which by far the greater part is packed in ice, and shipped for the London market, a very small part only being put into tin cases for exportation. It is now about 30 years since the mode of using ice for preserving the salmon fresh was introduced in Aberdeen.  Previous to that time, the fishers were under the necessity of boiling it and preserving it with vinegar, but this mode is now almost altogether disused. The average price obtained for the salmon and grilse's sent to London was about 8d. per lb.

Mid Shingle Fishing above Victoria Bridge

The salmon-fishery is carried on to a very considerable extent both in the sea and in the Rivers Dee and Don.  The rents accruing to the Magistrates of Aberdeen, and to various private individuals from this source, are to a considerable amount.

A statement of the actual quantity of salmon caught in the Dee and on the beach adjacent cannot be given, because these 'fishings', being in the hands of persons possessing similar fishings in other situations, it has not been deemed of importance to distinguish the fish of each particular River or Station.
































Spearing salmon by torchlightSpearing salmon by daylight

"Burning the water" (spearing salmon at night). Though this illustration is from Scrope's Days and Nights of Salmon Fishing in the Tweed (1843), this type of fishing was widespread in Scotland up to the early 19th century. This illustration is of "Sunning" (spearing by day) One fisherman holds a net which was used to prevent salmon bolting out of the pool. The horse's skull lying on the ground was also used to frighten any salmon which tried to escape.

Salmon Coble

Salmon cobles, boats mostly only 14-16ft on the West Coast although sometimes much larger in Eastern Scotland. It is difficult to say how long ago cobles first arrived in Western Scotland.

They are certainly associated with the salmon fisheries of the East Coast rivers and may have been introduced from there to the West Coast at some time in the past, perhaps along with the associated methods of netting salmon.

The Scottish cobles, like their seagoing cousins in Yorkshire and Northumberland, are clinker-built but from a non-Norse, probably Celtic constructional tradition with unusual frames and no conventional keel.

They are decreasing but still not rare. There are plans of an East coast example in McKee.


Salmon fishers working at the east side of the Victoria Bridge, in the new river channel replacing what was the old rights to the Raik and Stell Fishing which would then have been be in the Albert Basin area in the old river channel.  One gentleman in clinker built Coble rowing and shedding out the salmon net from the stern, one gentleman on the foreshore standing by the net, this was done by rowing the Coble across the river and looping round up river before returning to the shore to check the content of the net. Victoria Bridge in background showing tramlines, gas lamps, heads of various people crossing the bridge, stone pitched slope on north and south side of the bridge, chimney and buildings at the junction of South Market Street and North Esplanade East, timber fence, the archways of the Victoria Bridge, only four at the south end visible.

By the timber fence was an oasis of greenery where a wee lad 'caught short' could gain relief and the 'dock leaves' would be his saviour. He could then resume his adventures as an ittinerant seaman on old salvaged land bound lifeboats on the Point Law spur.







Standing Salmon Nets - Stake Nets or Bag Nets


Example of a salmon bag net when riggedStake Nets operate like funnel traps into which salmon swam and could not escape.

The function and structure of the bag nets. The diagram below shows that  bag nets are very large and heavy structures over one hundred yards long and about 16 feet high. In addition the bag net portion with its three chambers would be about 50-60 feet in length.  The leaders for bag nets had to be set out each week during the salmon fishing season. This was due to the local culture which demanded that no fishing could take place on a Sunday, and latterly the law also set out statutory rules on which days fishing could take place and on which days fishing was prohibited. Thus the leader nets had to be lifted and laid on a regular basis.  The bag nets were secured to the seabed with heavy anchors.

The bag nets and leader were run out at right angles to the coast line and typically the salmon, entering Aberdeen Bay for example, would swim diagonally towards the shore as they sought the ‘scent’ of the river they were trying to get back to. This behaviour would inevitably lead them into the path of the leader of one of the bag nets thus causing them to turn and swim away from the shore along the leader with the result that they would enter the bag net system at the end of that leader.

As you will see in diagram there were 3 bag nets, the cleek, the doubling, and the fish court.

The entrance to each gets progressively smaller, the final entrance being only a 6” wide opening through which the salmon entered the ‘fish court’ from which they did not usually escape. Typically, once in the fish court, the salmon would swim round that chamber by following the path of the nets and so would miss the small 6 inch opening in the angled wings of the fish court. Although not clear in the above diagram the bag nets were also netted top and bottom so that they were completely enclosed apart from the openings which enable the fish to enter the bags.

Occasionally a fish would escape through the small 6 inch opening, and often, when the other fish saw how it was done, they would all follow suit and the catch would be gone!

There were doors in the fish court through which, when opened, the fish catch could be retrieved.


This picture shows the scale of the Box Nets as they stretch out over the strand to deep water


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Last modified: 01/09/2013