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.