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TITLE
West Highland Salmon Fisheries Co. - letter to an employee, 1953
EXTERNAL ID
HCD_DAVIDBANKS_110
DATE OF IMAGE
13 October 1953
PERIOD
1950s
SOURCE
Skye and Lochalsh Archive Centre
ASSET ID
1431
KEYWORDS
fishing industry
commercial fishing
salmon fishing
trout fishing
net fishing
West Highland Salmon Fisheries Co. - letter to an employee, 1953

This letter was written by James Banks to one of his sea salmon fishing employees, Gilbert Owen, who fished at the Balmeanach salmon station, Braes on the Isle of Skye. Mr Owen had written to Banks telling him he had found a new position and that he would not be returning to fishing next season. James Banks did hire a few men at different times during the winter months for specific jobs, such as repairing nets or cutting ice for the ice house, but most of his employees worked seasonally, primarily in the summer months. Full time employment was difficult to come by so any chance of it was taken up.

Owen had landed a job with Scottish Diatomite Ltd. Diatomite was extracted from Loch Cuithir, three miles inland from the shoreline at Lealt, on the Trotternish peninsula. The diatomite was transported on a small iron railway to the coast then shipped on for processing. Diatomite is sediment formed from microscopic algae rich in silica. It was used in the commercial production of face powder, fillers and fire-proofing. Diatomite was mined here initially between 1886 and 1904. The industry suffered from inexperienced management, processing difficulties and poor transport. After many years when no mining was done, the industry ran again between 1951 and 1961 but saw little return for the investors and eventually it closed for good.

The diatomite works didn't always work harmoniously with the fishing industry with the latter claiming that dirt dumped into the river was leaving the bay red and spoiling the fish catches in the area. However, James Banks recognised the value of full time employment for Owen and wished him the best of success.


West Highland Salmon Fisheries Co Ltd
In 1944 James Banks & Sons, Perth bought the sea salmon fishing lease for the Kilmuir Estates, Skye from A Powrie & Co, and formed the West Highland Salmon Fisheries Co Ltd to operate the lease. The company continued until 1962 when it was sold to Kenneth Matheson, Portree.

When Banks and Sons took over the lease there were fishing stations at Lealt, Rigg (Borreraig), Staffin, Portree, Camustianavaig, Balmeanach and Brochel Castle (on Raasay). In 1956, Balmeanach and Camustianavaig merged to become the Braes station, with three men employed, while the others usually had four-man crews. The company employed about 28 men each year with jobs being offered to the same men each season before new workers were hired.

The season began late April/early May and ran through to the end of August. Several men were also employed during the winter months to take ice down from the dam at Sluggans for storage at the ice house at Portree harbour. Each crew member would receive a contract with information on wages, proposed bonus scheme and work hours and were provided with oilskins and rubber boots.

The catch was divided into salmon, grilse and trout, with grilse numbers being the highest. The total annual catch was approximately 3000 fish in the late 1940s and early 1950s. A record high of nearly 10,000 fish were caught in 1957.


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West Highland Salmon Fisheries Co. - letter to an employee, 1953

1950s

fishing industry; commercial fishing; salmon fishing; trout fishing; net fishing

Skye and Lochalsh Archive Centre

David Banks: West Highland Salmon Fisheries Co Ltd (documents)

This letter was written by James Banks to one of his sea salmon fishing employees, Gilbert Owen, who fished at the Balmeanach salmon station, Braes on the Isle of Skye. Mr Owen had written to Banks telling him he had found a new position and that he would not be returning to fishing next season. James Banks did hire a few men at different times during the winter months for specific jobs, such as repairing nets or cutting ice for the ice house, but most of his employees worked seasonally, primarily in the summer months. Full time employment was difficult to come by so any chance of it was taken up. <br /> <br /> Owen had landed a job with Scottish Diatomite Ltd. Diatomite was extracted from Loch Cuithir, three miles inland from the shoreline at Lealt, on the Trotternish peninsula. The diatomite was transported on a small iron railway to the coast then shipped on for processing. Diatomite is sediment formed from microscopic algae rich in silica. It was used in the commercial production of face powder, fillers and fire-proofing. Diatomite was mined here initially between 1886 and 1904. The industry suffered from inexperienced management, processing difficulties and poor transport. After many years when no mining was done, the industry ran again between 1951 and 1961 but saw little return for the investors and eventually it closed for good.<br /> <br /> The diatomite works didn't always work harmoniously with the fishing industry with the latter claiming that dirt dumped into the river was leaving the bay red and spoiling the fish catches in the area. However, James Banks recognised the value of full time employment for Owen and wished him the best of success.<br /> <br /> <br /> <b>West Highland Salmon Fisheries Co Ltd</b><br /> In 1944 James Banks & Sons, Perth bought the sea salmon fishing lease for the Kilmuir Estates, Skye from A Powrie & Co, and formed the West Highland Salmon Fisheries Co Ltd to operate the lease. The company continued until 1962 when it was sold to Kenneth Matheson, Portree. <br /> <br /> When Banks and Sons took over the lease there were fishing stations at Lealt, Rigg (Borreraig), Staffin, Portree, Camustianavaig, Balmeanach and Brochel Castle (on Raasay). In 1956, Balmeanach and Camustianavaig merged to become the Braes station, with three men employed, while the others usually had four-man crews. The company employed about 28 men each year with jobs being offered to the same men each season before new workers were hired. <br /> <br /> The season began late April/early May and ran through to the end of August. Several men were also employed during the winter months to take ice down from the dam at Sluggans for storage at the ice house at Portree harbour. Each crew member would receive a contract with information on wages, proposed bonus scheme and work hours and were provided with oilskins and rubber boots. <br /> <br /> The catch was divided into salmon, grilse and trout, with grilse numbers being the highest. The total annual catch was approximately 3000 fish in the late 1940s and early 1950s. A record high of nearly 10,000 fish were caught in 1957. <br /> <br /> <br /> This image may be available to purchase.<br /> For further information about purchasing and prices please email<br /> <a href="mailto: skyeandlochalsh.archives@highlifehighland.com ">Skye and Lochalsh Archives</a>