The Tay Salmon Fishery

The Tay Salmon Fishery

An extract from Tay Salmon – Net Fishing Memories

Dave Scott recalls the net fishing for wild salmon once based around Newburgh in north Fife

Net fishing on the Tay started several hundred years ago and, by the mid 1700s, had become a huge business, with exports to several countries. Trade blossomed further when ice (stored in ice houses) was used to preserve the fish while in transit abroad.

The Tay Salmon Fisheries Company was established in 1899 and it became one of the biggest such operations in the country. Net fishing was a major industry in the area until the 1980s when salmon numbers in the river began to decline. At the same time, the popularity of salmon farming boomed.
With coble and net fishing being seasonal, an army of summer workers was needed each year. Many of the vacancies were filled by men recruited from the Western Isles.

As the salmon stocks dwindled, so did the pay-rolls. Restrictions on net fishing on the Tay began upstream in the 1960s. They were extended later to Perth itself and to the lower reaches in the mid 1990s. The regular crews knew the end was in sight. The final net was pulled in on 20 August, 1996.
Gordon Farquhar began work as a student boatman in 1981. ‘It was really a unique job in that you were always following the tides,’ he recalls. ‘You would start at, say, seven o’clock the first day, the next day it may have been 7.45 or eight o’clock depending on high water’. As a boatman, Farquhar would steer the boat, watch the net going over the back and, once it had dropped in the water, head to the hailing [beach] and bring in the net on a winch, controlled by the gaffer.

‘Once the net closed and swung round a bit, your next job would be to hail the ground rope. You would pull the net in and put it on to the barrow. You would then collect any fish and the gaffer or the towman would chap them on the head before they were put in boxes.’

Farquhar progressed from boatman to boatman/towman and was gaffer at Pyerod, evenutally getting his own crew for his final two years. Many friendships were struck up in the bothies, where the crews occasionally made some ‘home-brew’ and played cribbage and other card games. ‘There was never any trouble, hassle or arguments between anyone. There was always good fun, plenty of laughs and wind-ups, but no malice.’

Extracted with permission from a 64-page booklet of photos and recollections compiled by Dave Scott entitled Tay Salmon – Net Fishing Memories, available from the Tay Salmon Fisheries Company (, 01738 636407) priced £9.