Photographer returning to coast to record a lost way of life

A photographer has embarked on a “race against time” to document a way of life once a common sight along the coast in the Montrose area.

Mark Dowie
Wednesday, 23rd February 2022, 3:02pm
Photographer returning to coast to record a lost way of life

Colin McPherson is returning to the coastline to capture the people, places and traditions which underpinned Scotland’s salmon netting industry, the roots of which can be traced back to the Viking era, before knowledge and memory of the way of life is lost for good.

Salmon netting was hit with an indefinite moratorium by the Scottish Government in 2019 after a successful case was made by the angling lobby that the practice, which catches salmon in open water as it makes its way to breeding grounds upstream, was responsible for depleting valuable river stocks.

Mr McPherson first started to document the industry in the late 1990s and said he was now compelled to return to the project to create a lasting legacy for the industry.

He said: “It’s so urgent. If I don’t do this in the next two to three years, people’s memories will fade, people will die, knowledge will go and nobody will have recorded it all. It’s a race against time, to be honest.”

Salmon netters stretched from Sutherland down to the River Tweed and the Solway Firth, and for many years were active at St Cyrus and Montrose.

The photographer, a founding member of the Document Scotland photography collective, said: “There is a realisation among them that it is never going to come back.

“There is a real sense of loss. Every single one of them told me how much they loved going to work, that there was a bond between them. They have an amazing knowledge of weather, of cloud formations, of the tides. I don’t like to be too sentimental about it as, at the end of the day, it was an industry, but to me its imperative that it is recorded.”

Salmon netters also came under pressure from conservationists, angered by the shooting of seals to protect the catch as well as the impact on stocks given fish were killed before returning to breeding grounds. Climate change and the rising grey seal population have also been factored as causes of stock decline. Mr McPherson said he wanted to create a full resource for future generations and to chart changing relationships with the land and the loss of wild salmon.

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