Colin McPherson

Photographer and Visual Artist

Catching the Tide

These images are taken from Catching the Tide, a long-term project documenting the lives and work of Scotland’s last remaining coastal netsmen, fishermen who use centuries-old methods to fish for wild Atlantic salmon.

The project’s aim is to capture the essence of the work, the relationship between the salmon fishermen and their social and natural environment and to build an archive which could be used by future generations as a visual memory of the past.

The photographs were made at various netting stations around Scotland’s long and varied coastline and feature a number of men who have been associated with salmon fishing for generations. For the last 30 years the industry has been in sharp decline due to falling fish numbers, harsh economic circumstances and an aggressive policy by angling interests to buy out the netting companies and individual fishermen. At present, a Scottish Government moratorium is in place, meaning that netting is banned completely and none of the existing stations are in operation. The debate about the industry’s future, however, rages on with possible legal action in the offing to overturn the present ban. With increasing concern over the safety and efficacy of farmed salmon, and the ongoing debate about land ownership in Scotland and the status of rod and line angling, salmon netting’s place in Scotland’s contemporary narrative is still talked about. With the announcement that 2020 has been named as theYear of Scotland’s Coasts and Waters, this unique collection of images, many of which have never been exhibited or published, is sure to be of immense public interest.

The images featured below are from the early part of the project, from the mid-1990s through to 2003. Two years later, a film celebrating the project was made. Originally broadcast on Scottish Television, Catching the Tide has since toured film festivals and been shown on television in a number of countries.

Over the last decade, I have continued to keep in contact with the fishermen, attending meetings, photographing what is left of the industry and working to develop this unique archive of images. A a number of the images now resides within the photography collection of the National Galleries of Scotland.

Here is a larger edit of monochrome images from the series.

Here is a larger edit of colour images from the series.

A salmon netter hauls salmon from a 'jumper' net at low tide on the sands at Kinnaber, Angus during a May hailstorm. Salmon net fisherman James Mackay in his coble at Armadale, Sutherland, preparing to fish his bag nets. A team of salmon netters working on the construction of the fly net on the rocks at Boddin, Angus. A salmon netter from Joseph Johnston & Sons of Montrose, recovering fish from a fly net on the sands at St. Cyrus, Aberdeenshire. Veteran salmon netter David Pullar, working with his tractor at Lunan Bay, Angus prior to fishing his jumper nets staked out on the sands. A salmon netter heads for the shore as the tide comes in as his fellow netters finish the construction of the fly net on the rocks at Boddin, Angus. Salmon netters pulling their nets ashore while fishing by sweep netting using a coble (boat) on the river North Esk, Kinnaber, Angus at sunset. Walter Davidson, the last full-time salmon netter on the Solway firth in south-west Scotland, fishing one of his stake net at Creetown after checking the pocket for wild Atlantic salmon. Salmon netter Ian Falconer carries netting across the foreshore at low tide during construction of the fly net on the rocks at Boddin, Angus. Salmon netter Ian Faconer steers a coble on the way to emptying bag nets in the waters off Boddin, Angus. A wild Atlantic salmon caught in a poke net, staked out on the sands of the Solway, in the south-west of Scotland. Salmon netter Ian Paterson, pictured in the kitchen of his bothy at Portskerra, Sutherland, shortly before he reitred after 35 years working catching wild Atlantic salmon. Salmon netter Dave Pullar pictured standing at one of his bag nets drying at his netting station of Fishtown of Usan, Angus. A salmon netter at Scotland's last fishing station on the River Tweed at Paxton in the Scottish Borders. Salmon netters Bob Ritchie (left) and Jim Mitchell head home along the sands after fishing 'jumper' nets at low tide at Kinnaber, Angus.

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5 Responses to “Catching the Tide”

  1. Brought to book | Document Scotland

    […] Colin’s work with the fishermen began in the mid-1990s when the fisheries were still principally owned and managed by great companies which had exploited the salmon for over a century. Firms such as Joseph Johnston & Sons owned the leases to many profitable netting stations and employed hundreds of men. With dwindling fish stocks, the flooding of the market by cheaply-produced farmed salmon and an aggressive buy-out campaign by angling interests, the days of salmon netting seemed numbered. It was this which spurred Colin on to making as complete a record as possible of salmon netting which has lead to many years travelling and photographing the fishermen and their stations from the Solway in the south to the north west tip of Scotland in Sutherland. Companies such as Johnstons are long gone, but the record of their fisheries is in part preserved by Colin’s work. […]

  2. Sean Doherty

    Absolutely wonderful . Please god at this stage the powers that be will recognise the absolute beauty heritage culture and community involved in the fishery.. For way too long the angling lobby has been allowed to dominate salmon politics when in fact they held least traditional knowledge.. Long live this way of life


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