There has been salmon fishing on the River Tweed at Berwick for at least 900 years but that tradition could now be at an end.
This follows the retirement of Ian Bruce, owner of Berwick Salmon Company, who held the license from Berwick Harbour Commission to net salmon at the Gardo Fishery.
Berwick Harbour Commission has confirmed that the future of the fishery is currently being reviewed and that all options will be considered before a final decision is made.
A group of organisations and individuals, led by the Mouth of the Tweed Initiative, hope this will allow time to explore practical options for its continuation as a working fishery.
However, they share concerns the loss of the fishery would represent more than the ending of another small business as it would bring to an end an activity that has a recorded history of at least 900 years of continuous operation at Berwick.
Derek Sharman, tour guide and co-founder of the Mouth of the Tweed initiative said: “It is ironic that this news comes when plans are about to be revealed for a programme of events throughout 2015 to celebrate 900 years of Berwick’s history.
“Salmon-netting on the Tweed at Berwick is the one thing that has remained constant through those nine centuries.
“As well as offering some seasonal work and a world-class product for the town, salmon-netting at Gardo Fishery has potential for development as a significant feature in Berwick’s offer as a distinctive visitor destination.”
Despite its decline, salmon fishing remains at the heart of many community traditions - most notably the Tweedmouth Feast festivities every July with the Crowning of the Salmon Queen its highlight.
The Mouth of the Tweed initiative has already received expressions of support from the Berwick Slow Food Group, Cittasalow Berwick, Berwick Chamber of Trade, the North Northumberland Tourism Association and Spittal Improvement Trust.
Viable proposals may include setting up a form of community heritage project to purchase the fishery and manage a self-financing operation that could be developed as a valuable tourism asset and ensure that wild Tweed salmon would be available as a premium quality product in local shops and restaurants
The continuation of the last working salmon-fishery could form the centrepiece of a heritage project including viewing points, interpretative displays and living history activities on Berwick Quayside and at other sites in the town associated with the salmon industry.
Spittal Improvement Trust, for example, owns a fishermen’s shiel that once accommodated the salmon netsmen at the nearby Sandstell Fishery.
The story of how ice was used to preserve Tweed salmon during the long sea voyage to London in the 18th and early 19th centuries could also be told with additional interpretation at the preserved Bankhill ice-house owned by the Berwick Preservation Trust.
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1. THE MOUTH OF THE TWEED INITIATIVE
Mouth of the Tweed is a voluntary association currently comprising some 70 local food-related businesses and community groups located within 25km (15.5 miles) of the mouth of the River Tweed at Berwick-upon-Tweed that share the common aim of promoting and developing Berwick’s rich heritage of producing, processing and selling food and drink, today and in the past.
Mouth of the Tweed seeks to achieve this aim by:-
providing more food-related things for visitors to see and do
helping local people and visitors understand and appreciate our food heritage
using our food heritage as a unique selling point for Berwick and its surrounding area
encouraging and working with voluntary groups, businesses and public bodies to conserve and promote our food heritage
helping sustain and stimulate employment in food-related enterprises.
Further information about Mouth of the Tweed and Berwick’s local food and drink in the past and today can be found on the website www.mouthofthetweed.co.uk.
2. SALMON-FISHING ON THE TWEED AT BERWICK
The earliest records referring to the fisheries on the Tweed at Berwick date back to the early 12th century when, sometime before 1122, Ralph Flambard, Bishop of Durham, made a grant of the fishery of Haliwarstelle” (Hallowstell, or “holy man’s fishery”, at Spittal) to the monks of Holy Island. Hallowstell and the adjacent Sandstell fishery continued in operation until 2000, giving a continuous recorded history of almost 900 years of salmon fishing at the mouth of the Tweed.
Gardo Fishery near the Old Bridge in Berwick is now the last fishery in Berwick where commercial netting is allowed. The fishery is owned by Berwick Harbour Commission.
The traditional method of netting wild Atlantic salmon still used on the Tweed at Berwick is by means of net and coble. The coble is a small one- or two-man rowing boat of similar design to, but smaller in size than the sea-going cobles that are a colourful feature of the fishing harbours of the North East.
The coble is rowed out from the bank of the River in a semi-circle, while the net is “shot” from the stern. The boat is rowed back to the shore and immediately drawn in by the rest of the crew.
Since the mid-19th century this method, known as “Wear Shot”, has been the only legal method of netting salmon allowed on the Tweed.