The Solway Firth has been a natural barrier against invaders during war and a hinderance to commerce in peaceful times. Bowness Wath, the ford, linking Annan and Bowness, was an important Solway crossing point or cattle drovers until 1863. The Solway has also been a rich source of fish for centuries.
The Royal Charter of 1538 granted by King James V is believed to be the re-erection of one granted much earlier. The Charter was granted to Annan in recognition of its loyalty to the Scottish Crown stating:
“(Annan)…has often, at divers time, been burnt and destroyed, and thr burgesses and inhabitants of the same, in times of peace as well as war, been plundered and slain by our ancient enemies of England, in protection of our kingdom, and have often placed their lives in extreme jeopardy, in resistance of our ancient enemies aforesaid, and in defence of the limits and boundaries or our kingdom, opposite those parts of England,…” The Charter gives the citizens of the Burgh of Annan the right to fish the river and the Solway.
These rights were once again re-erected with another Royal Charter in 1612 granted by James VI after the 1538 Charter was destroyed when Annan was again sacked and burnt by raiding English forces led by Lord Wharton in 1547.
The Solway border between Scotland and England has traditionally been the centre of the channel at low water and the fishing rights of both countries have been strongly defended and contested over the centuries.
In 1563 an Act of Queen Mary ordered the removal of all ‘cruives’ and ‘yairs’ in the tideway, except “upon the waters of the Solway”. Again, probably a polite rejoinder to the actions of our English neighbours. The reason for the Solway exemption is put quite plainly in a further Act (James VI, 1600),
“…whereby the forebearance upon the Scots part of slauchter of salmond in forbidden time, and of kipper, smolts, and black fish, at all times, would not have made salmond any mair to abound in these waters, if the like order had not been observed upon the English side”.
Different fishing regulations have operated on both sides of the Solway over the centuries and still continue to do so.
Unfortunately, over recent decades, a series of environmental factors have adversely affected fish numbers. Conservation legislation now dictates that most fish have to be released. This has led to the decommissioning of the Stake and Poke nets. Haaf nets continue because they can catch and release fish in seconds, with practically zero mortality.
The three traditional Annan methods of fishing are with Haaf nets (portable nets), Stake and Poke nets (“fixed engines”). The main catch being salmon and trout.
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