“Wha’ll gang a poachin’ tae Kergord wi’ me?” is the challenging refrain of a comic song, sung to the tune of Waltzing Matilda, popular at village hall concerts in Shetland. Hear an audience of young Shetlanders taking up this refrain and you may assume that they are no less willing than their forebears to encroach on a laird’s preserves. But times have changed and, like the Cornish pastime of shipwrecking, the Shetland sport of netting the burns joins the list of anti-social nocturnal activities.
The challenge to poaching is three-fold: from the many Shetlanders who now see money in the tourist trade, from the growing number of those who have themselves become keen anglers, and, lastly and least in importance, from the landowners.
A poor angling season has annoyed all three factions and has made this autumn particularly appropriate for the constitution of a local fisheries board which, in turn, has appointed water bailiffs in every district in the islands. To ensure that the bailiffs are not marked men, their identity is kept a secret.
“We are not concerned about the man who wants ‘one for the pot.’ It’s the gangs who are commercialising poaching we want to catch,” says a local laird, who is wisely keeping in the background, although very keen on the anti-poaching campaign. But if war is to be declared on the commercial poachers, the crofter who wants “one for the pot” is just as likely – perhaps more likely – to be the victim. Poaching gangs? Well, there are stories of boxes of trout labelled “live lobsters” being flown to London, but Shetland is a great place for stories.
Is there really such a lot of poaching in Shetland? The anglers may think so, but the police have an answer. When the anglers go on their spawning “raids” they are supposed to tell the police the day before. Just once have they forgotten to do so, and the two constables who caught them red-handed are still fulminating about the wear and tear of uniforms, not to mention the discomfort of a long walk with boots squelching. That is the only case of “poaching” dealt with for a long time.
This is an edited article, read the full version here.