Tweed ghillies object to netting company

Gardo netting station, using traditional fishing methods on the Tweed estuary
Gardo netting station, using traditional fishing methods on the Tweed estuary

Over 40 River Tweed ghillies have signed a letter objecting to the early start being made by the River Tweed Wild Salmon Company at the Gardo netting station.

The netting season runs from April 1 to September 14, but Tweed ghillies and River Tweed Commissioners have asked the operator of the river’s only commercial netting station, run by Michael Hindhaugh, not to start catching salmon until mid June.

2013 Coldstreamer Grant Campbell with proud parents Sally and Malcolm

2013 Coldstreamer Grant Campbell with proud parents Sally and Malcolm

In a letter to both the netting company and the Scottish Government, the ghillies say: “We the ghillies and boatmen on the Tweed object in the strongest terms to the actions of the Gardo netting station in killing spring salmon.

“Whilst we release back into the water all the spring salmon we catch up to July 1, every year, as we have since 2010, Gardo net is killing all the salmon it catches, which both (a) cannot be justified in pure conservation terms and (b) is directly contrary to all recognised scientific advice that killing spring salmon at current population levels is not sustainable.

“We believe these actions by Gardo will seriously impact not only our own jobs but also the jobs of many others in the Borders who depend on a viable 10 month salmon fishing season.”

“We don’t kill anything until July 1, and take care to make sure the fish go back in unharmed,” explained Malcolm Campbell, head ghillie at the Lees Beat at Coldstream.

“I don’t know how they can claim to be netting sustainably - we don’t know there is a harvestable surplus.

“In the spring the Tweed should be a category 3 river not a category 1.”

The Scottish Government has legal responsibility for the River Tweed, while river maintenance is in the hands of the Tweed Commissioners and their efforts over the years have resulted in it being classified as a category 1 river in the Scottish Government’s Scottish Wild Fisheries Review. This means stocks of salmon and sea trout are considered healthy and sustainable, and a harvestable surplus can be taken from the river.

However, the Scottish Government now recognises what the ghillies have been telling them - that there is a need for separate management of spring salmon stocks, and active discussions are being held with the River Tweed Commissioners about an appropriate management regime.

“From June 15 onwards the spring fish are in the river and it would be a different run they would be netting,” added Malcolm.

“The spring run is a fragile stock - you need a good spawning surplus and if the spring months fail we are down to the back end of the season which has been getting worse and worse and last year it fell off a cliff.

“We may be left with spring and summer salmon which will shorten the fishing season and affect jobs.”

The River Tweed Wild Salmon Company started leasing the netting station from owners Berwick Harbour Commissioners last year and while catching salmon in April, May and early June is legal, it goes against the Tweed management plan that no fish should be killed before June 15.

Dr Alan Wells, Fisheries Management Scotland chief executive said: “It is extremely disappointing that the River Tweed Wild Salmon Company has chosen to kill these precious spring salmon, despite the River Tweed Commission’s spring salmon conservation policy.”

We were unable to get a response from the River Tweed Wild Salmon Company but a statement on their website indicates that the company “appreciates the importance of sustainability and delay the season start to help protect spring stocks of salmon. Net fishing can legally start on April 1, but we usually delay our start as we are mindful of fish numbers in the spring.”