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Salmon Fishing at Badentarbat

Badentarbet
[58.031776, -5.371020]
Siobhan Beatson
Ullapool Museum

Salmon in the north west highlands has been one of the most lucrative commodities available to communities for centuries. Traditionally Salmon are held above all other fish and play a big part in Pictish cultures, as seen by their depiction in many Pictish cravings. They retained their celebrity when christianity swept the land and was…

Salmon in the north west highlands has been one of the most lucrative commodities available to communities for centuries. Traditionally Salmon are held above all other fish and play a big part in Pictish cultures, as seen by their depiction in many Pictish cravings. They retained their celebrity when christianity swept the land and was hailed as a celebration food, common at Easter and other holy days. So valuable was salmon to the lairds that often his tenants paid their rents in fish. Further south at Blairgowrie, Thomas De Camera paid an annual rent of 80 salmon, showing its value for the landowners.

Restrictions have been in place on salmon fishing for longer than most people imagine. The earliest regulations date from the late Medieval period where the size of salmon cruives and the time that salmon could be caught were heavily regulated by the Scottish Privy Council. The Scottish parliament attempted to use, what we would consider modern conservation techniques, to ensure that salmon were not overfished in Scotland from as early as the 13th century. 

Fishing Prosecution in the Inverness Courier, 19th August 1869, p.6

These restrictions were still well in effect when Mr Gunn, the factor for the Duchess of Sutherland charged Mr Alexander Pirie Hogarth with deliberately flaunting the restriction in the late 1800s, by not removing his three nets for the Badentarbat fishing station as well as other locations. Mr Hogarth argues that he had given instruction to his staff to follow the law but he could not help it if they did not heed his instructions. Ultimately, Mr Hogarth was the tacksman and liability lay with him, and the penalties he incurred included the forfeiture of the nets; a fine for every net, not exceeding £10; and a £2 for every salmon caught in the illegal nets.

Southern Reporter, 12th May 1870, p.4

The salmon fishing station at Badentarbet is the centre for a seasonal commercial bag-net fishery for wild salmon. Salmon bag-nets consist of a complicated system of nets that are staked to the sea bed, that direct the fish through a series of funnels. They rely on the salmon’s behaviour instincts to swim down a net rather than attempt to swim through it. Bag-nets are usually fished along rocky shores and will be attended to by small salmon coble boats with a crew between 3-5 to extract the fish from the trap.

Most of the surviving buildings from the fishing station date from the 1850s onwards, although it is likely that some form of fishing station would have been at Badentarbat from the early nineteenth century or earlier. The house on the site was built around 1870.  It would originally have consisted of a single building with an attic or loft store reached by an external staircase. Storage building would have housed either salt or ice to help preserve the salmon for transportation. 

Badentarbet Net Shed

Newspaper articles suggest that the Badentarbat fishing station was generally stocked up on ice during the winter months to use throughout the year. Which is why in April 1905, when Mr MacRae had to order a steamer to deliver ice to the fishing station it made the local press. They described it as exceptional that they could not procure ice locally.

North Star and Farmers Chronic, 6th April 1905, p.4

Watch Bag-net Salmon Fishing

Acknowledgements

Images:

Salmon Bag-net: Copyright: Doric Columns

Badentarbat Bay – Cathy Dagg, 02/04, Highland Historic Environment Record

Fishing Station: Wester Ross Project – Cathy Dagg, 02/04, Highland Historic Environment Record

Net shed Badentarbat: Wester Ross Project – Cathy Dagg, 02/04, Highland Historic Environment Record