Fight to save Tweed’s old order

The management of fishing on the Tweed could be about to change.

The management of fishing on the Tweed could be about to change.

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Coldstream landowner Andrew Douglas Home, a former chairman of the River Tweed Commission, has hit out at plans to abolish the organisation.

The extinction of a body which has run the fishing on the world-famous catchment for over two centuries is explicit in the recommendations of an independent review, commissioned and just published by the Scottish Government.

Andrew Douglas Home (Chairman of the Tweed Foundation)

Andrew Douglas Home (Chairman of the Tweed Foundation)

And although a fifth of the Tweed fishery lies across the Border in England, the review’s authors want it to come entirely under the jurisdiction of a new Scottish quango – the National Wild Fisheries Unit.

They want the RTC replaced by a Fisheries Management Organisation (FMO) – one of a network of such new regulatory bodies across Scotland.

Amid a raft of proposals, not only would the RTC bite the dust, but the annual £750,000 it raises to support all aspects of the Tweed management – from a levy on beat owners and based on the self reporting of local catches – could, in future, be redirected to Scotland’s less successful fisheries.

Although there is no indication if and when any of the recommendations will be implemented, the SNP Government at Holyrood has made no secret of its desire to reform and modernise the management of Scotland’s wild fisheries.

The review claims the changes will “strengthen democratic accountability, encourage greater participation and provide confidence that sufficient resources will be available to enable core priorities to be delivered”.

But for Mr Douglas Home, whose own beat is at the Lees, the radical proposals are unnecessary, unworkable and damaging to an industry worth an estimated £20million a year to the local economy.

Blogging on his Tweedbeats website, Mr Douglas Home, who is also a past chairman of the Tweed Foundation - RTC’s scientific research arm - delivers a blistering attack on what he feels is unwarranted interference by what he describes as BCG (Big Central Government).

“BCG will now raise a central standard levy on all Tweed fishery owners including those in England who have no vote in electing BCG, at a level which will be decided by BCG without any reference to the Tweed,” writes Mr Douglas Home. “These funds may not come back to Tweed where ‘the need is greater in other areas’. In other words, the Tweed will have some of the funds raised from it by BCG confiscated and removed to other areas, without any right of appeal.

“Yet the review makes no criticism of how Tweed has implemented necessary restrictions on killing salmon up to now, including full 100% catch and release to the end of June every year, and how the RTC, comprising 81 commissioners elected by law, has spent over £2 million to reduce commercial netting.”

Fearing that the outlook is “pretty bleak”, the blog goes on: “Control, and who should best exercise it for the good of Tweed, for the people who live around it in both lands and for all its fish, are at stake - and the stakes could not be much higher. Borderers are independent folk, fiercely proud and protective of where they live and its heritage and they are fighters - on both sides of the border.

“The Tweed is at the very heart of it, the thread that holds it together, the unifying and the overpowering symbol of the Borders; and the salmon, who come in from Berwick every year and run up over 60 miles into the Peeblesshire hills and beyond to spawn, is Tweed’s iconic species.

“Since 1807 when Sir Walter Scott and others set up the Tweed Commission, we Borderers, in both lands, have looked after our fish well.

“Are we going to give that up, and the essential local control and concomitant pride which that brings, without a fight?

“Big Central Government would do well to listen to the will the commissioners when they next meet in early December. What right does BCG have to override or ignore that collective will?”

As Mr Douglas Home indicates, the RTC is due to discuss its response to the recommendations of Scotland’s Wild Fisheries Review at its quarterly meeting next month.