In this the 150th anniversary year of Nith District Salmon Fishery Board Jim Henderson addressed Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society on the subject of his employment with the Board.
Jim, a native of Stranraer, who has a degree in Environmental Studies, was head-hunted for the job — a wise choice. His enthusiasm and enjoyment in the work of this statutory body was obvious.
There are 36 proprietors within the Nith catchment area. The Duke of Buccleuch, farmers, the council are all involved. There are 13 members of the Board, which has jurisdiction over 1596 square kilometres and 37 miles of coastline.
Assisted by a permanent staff of four and part-time summer employees, Jim's remit is to look after the welfare of migratory salmonids within his sphere of influence. The local rural economy benefits to the value of £2.2 million at the unpropitious back end of the year.
There are many pressures on the fish, some of which are legal and specific to this part of the world, such as haaf-netting and the stake-net fishery at Sandyhills. Less laudable are the illegal pressures of poaching, gill netting and trammel netting, which can ensure big dividends for some of the highly-organised law breakers. Jim and his staff run risks in curtailing these activities. However, they have the same powers of arrest as police officers.
The natural world also presents problems for preserving stocks of salmon and sea trout. Pike and, especially goosander and mink are serious predators. The spread of vigorous and insidious alien species of plants, such as Japanese Knotweed, Giant Hogweed and Himalayan Balsam, is providing the need for costly programmes in attempts at control.
Industrial practices require careful monitoring. It was discovered that digging out gravel on the Marrburn was afoot at the very time when fish eggs were in the gravel. Similarly new road developments, windfarms, gas piplines and railway activity, such as the Portrack Viaduct, have all presented difficulties, but Jim confidently states that there is always an engineering solution, coupled with diplomacy.
Restoration of stocks also comes into the Board's plans. Two hatcheries produce two million salmon a year. It is essential that genetic strains remain pure and that the emergent fish suit their catchment area.
Education is also a key part of the job. Government ministers and anglers are kept informed of the needs of the industry. Schoolchildren are provided with aquaria to raise interest in this field and they are taken on outings to encourage respect for life in local rivers.
This beautifully-illustrated talk, delivered by a speaker with a good, clear voice, drew forth the comment from the audience that this was one of the best talks ever given to the Society. It proves once again that a talk should never be judged beforehand by its title!