Managing whole river catchments as single entities is being heralded as the modern, enlightened approach to the successful management of wild fisheries, but it is a working concept that has been around in the Borders for centuries!
The River Tweed is unique in many respects, but it is its location, straddling the Border between England and Scotland, that over the years has spurred the emergence of a very different approach to managing and protecting its fisheries.
Tweed has traditionally been regarded and administered as a “Scottish” salmon river, but with its estuary and a sixth of its catchment in England it was recognised, even from medieval times, that it needed separate legislation if it was to protect its fish stocks and fisheries in a concerted way.
The River Tweed Commissioners were set up under private Acts of Parliament in the mid 1800s and still operate under many of the powers granted by that legislation. The real innovation, however, came in 1969, with the enactment of another Tweed Act that extended the River Tweed Commissioners’ management responsibilities beyond just salmon and sea trout to include all freshwater fish.
With that far sighted move came a new management structure and a whole new approach to managing the river’s affairs. No longer focussed entirely on salmon, a new controlling body, the Council, was established with 81 members. Although the River Tweed Commissioners’ operations were, are still are, funded entirely from rates levied on the owners of the salmon fisheries, the controlling Council now includes a majority of members, 43, who are appointed by the Local Government Authorities within the catchment to represent the interests of angling associations and all other sectors of the community with an interest in the river.
It sounds strange and many observers have wondered how we can manage Tweed with such a large Council. But it works and works well. The major benefit is that we are able to draw on the very considerable knowledge, experience and enthusiasm of the Commissioners. Tweed is a very large catchment, covering not only a large geographical area but also a wide range of interests. To really be in a position to effectively protect and enhance a living river system means harnessing the enthusiasm and involvement of those who know and care about the resource and have some power to do something about it.
The next sea change came in the late 1980’s with the growing recognition that if you are going to manage your fish stocks effectively you have to understand the resource - what fish have you got, where are they, what are they doing, what problems are they facing and therefore what can be done to help them? And so the River Tweed Commissioners spawned the Tweed Foundation. The Tweed Foundation is a charitable company founded with the purpose of providing objective, scientific information to answer the those questions and allow the Commissioners and others so that they can take informed decisions. It too has worked exceptionally well. In over 30 years that investment in understanding the resource has generated a fundamental shift in appreciation and awareness of the importance of the river and its fish stocks, the damage that can be done through ignorance and the simple steps that can be taken to restore and protect it.
Information on the river, its environment, the fish and the economies of the fisheries have allowed the River Tweed Commissioners and the Tweed Foundation to target their own work to greatest effect. However, it is what has also allowed them to draw on funds, expertise and support from many other organisations and individuals with interests in or responsibilities for protecting the river, the fish, the angling and the communities and economies that depend on them. As a result the Foundation managed to attract over of £1.5 million from a wide range of sources, for example European Development Funds, the local Enterprise Company, the Heritage Lottery Fund, Scottish Natural Heritage, the World Wildlife Fund, local Angling Associations, local landowners, other charities and a host of others, both in cash and in kind. It has only been possible to access some of these funds, for example lottery, by working in partnership with others and it has only been possible to do that because of the now much greater understanding of the importance of the fish, the contributions they make and what needs to be done to protect them. Harnessing and channelling others energy, sympathy, care and commitment is what will ultimately protect our fish, their rivers and their future.
There is a lot we can do and are doing directly to protect and strengthen our fisheries but fisheries managers cannot do it alone. The working practice and philosophy that has therefore emerged on Tweed over the years is that, at the end of the day, successful fisheries management has little to do with actually managing the fish - they are pretty good at that themselves, if you give them half a chance - it is about managing people and the effects they have on the fish! If you want to educate and influence people you need your facts to hand.
The last legislative change for the Tweed was the 2006 consolidation of the all the Tweed legislation: this changed the name of the Commissioners to The River Tweed Commission but essentially left its structure and its relationship with the Foundation and other River managers unchanged.