The Tay Salmon fisheries in the nineteenth century
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, new methods of preservation allowed Tay salmon to be sold on the London market for the entire fishing season. Such was the size and buoyancy of this market that it absorbed the entire produce of the Tay fisheries, though catches were at that time increasing due to the introduction of stake nets in the Firth. However, these beneficial developments created tensions among the participants in the fisheries. Stake nets took fish which would have ascended to the river, reducing the catches of river tacksmen and the rentals of river proprietors. An increasing number of tacksmen meant that management of the fisheries ceased, as formerly, to be in the hands of a single company and gave rise to more competitive exploitation of the existing salmon stock. A particular result of these developments was that all participants in the fisheries developed an abiding preoccupation with the threat of over-fishing. This was 'further enhanced by the introduction of stake nets on the coast after they were banned from the estuary, development of a series of stake net substitutes in the estuary, more efficient conventional methods of fishing at more stations, and a revival of poaching from mid-century onwards. The court case which led to stake nets being removed from the estuary formalised the animosity between the various proprietorial groups. Their subsequent adoption of entrenched positions eventually led to the tripartition of the Tay fisheries into estuarial, river and upper river factions. Successive inquiries and two Acts of Parliament failed to reconcile the enmities which were sustained by strongly held beliefs in property rights and the need to defend rental incomes. The impasse was ultimately resolved by a single company which, by doubling rental payments, was able to take all netting stations into its own hands and thus revive unified control of the Tay salmon fisheries.