One thing that never ceases to amaze us is the range and depth of other interests that people have when they come to be interviewed for jobs at Aberdeen. They are always keen to learn more about what’s on offer locally and consequently we’ve written many times about the huge range of leisure and cultural opportunities that await those who move to north-east Scotland, including those for our angling friends who like to bait a hook or cast a fly in search of scaly quarry.
Aberdeen is, of course, one of the UK’s largest fishing ports, but for the amateur angler, there has always been a lot of opportunity to indulge in their favourite pastime. The Annals of Aberdeen*, which we’ve referred to before in our blogs, records just how much salmon there was in those far-off days, with the River Dee producing 1890 barrels, weighing four hundredweight each (a fifth of a ton) in 1798, and the River Don 1667 barrels. The average produce in the early 19th century was 1,000 – 1,200 barrels from the Dee and 800 – 1,000 from the Don. Today’s salmon fishermen, constrained massively by the decline in stocks of the wild fish, could only dream of these quantities of fish.
Nowadays, farmed salmon is ubiquitous, but in those days, much of the local salmon catch was exported. As the Annals tell us, they were sent, “either to the continent, in a salted state, and packed up into barrels, or to the London market, pickled with vinegar and packed in kits.” A ‘kit’ contained c. 32 lbs of salmon (about 14.5 kg) – or in real terms, a couple of grilse). Once it was discovered how to preserve the fish in ice, they were sent ‘as fresh’ by boat to London, with very little being retained for local consumption.
Of course, this quantity of fish was not caught on line. Nets were strung out into the rivers and much of it was under the control of the city authorities. The salmon fishing season ran from 11th December to 19th September and the catch was sold locally for 1/6d (c. 7p) per pound. This is considerably less than in the supermarkets today – a pound in 1800 was worth roughly about the same as £100 today – and a pound of salmon will cost you approximately £7 per pound (£17 per kg) in Waitrose (other supermarkets are available).
Mind you, if you couldn’t afford salmon in the 1800s, you could always make do with trout. These were caught in the nets too and, because they were supposed to be caught by anglers rather than the commercial fishermen, they sold for only 2d a pound (1p).
Today, despite the price differential with early centuries, salmon can be found in every supermarket all year round. Despite being farmed rather than wild, we suspect they are still a lot tastier than the pickled or salted salmon that were on the menu in the 19th century….
Julie Skinner, Resourcing and Benefits Specialist, RGU
*an historical record of the city from late 13th to early 19th centuries, available online if you wish to explore it further.