From monasteries to monopolisers
: the salmon fishing industry of the inner Moray Firth region, 1500 to 1800

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (awarded by UHI)


This thesis explores the development and importance of the salmon fishing industry of the inner Moray Firth region of Scotland in the period from 1500 to 1800. This region has hitherto been under-represented in the historiography and, although it is the confluence of multiple salmon rivers, the role of this industry in the regional and national economies has also been largely overlooked. The timescale of the study has permitted the exploration of the regulatory framework, structure, management and organisation of the industry over a prolonged period, and thus to identify, and determine reasons for, a move from monastic and lordly ownership of fishings to the domination of the industry by distant entrepreneurs.
This study has identified that the salmon-rich rivers ‘benorth the Spey’ were commercially exploited from an early date, not primarily for domestic consumption but for sales in English and European markets. The produce of these rivers accounted for a large proportion of the country’s salmon exports throughout the period, and the industry was proportionately more important in the regional economy than it was in that of many, perhaps all, other parts of Scotland, and contributed substantially to its commercial development. The region’s salmon trade was of such importance that by at least the sixteenth century men from Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh, some of whom had or developed strong familial and terrestrial, as well as commercial, ties with the region, were conducting a substantial trade in the region’s salmon alongside local merchants.
The salmon fishing industry continued to be economically important throughout the period, but the eighteenth century saw developments which changed the nature and organisation of the industry in the region. The new preservation techniques of kitting and ice preservation, and closer links with England following the Union of 1707, shifted the focus of Scotland’s salmon trade from European markets to the more lucrative and accessible London market, and attracted men of expertise, capital and enterprise from outside the region to establish these new techniques, and to manage and develop the fisheries of the Moray Firth. Throughout the period of study, as far as the salmon industry was concerned, the Moray Firth was no peripheral outlier but part of, even central to, the national picture.
Date of Award25 Nov 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of the Highlands and Islands
SponsorsESF studentship
SupervisorDavid Worthington (Supervisor), Jen Harland (Supervisor) & Lucio Marcello (Supervisor)

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