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Western Isles Libraries

Fishing & Agriculture

Scotland in early 19th century remained a largely agricultural nation. Farming was one of the main employers while in coastal areas the main source of employment was the fishing industry. Following industrialisation, improvements in transportation, the mechanisation of agriculture and innovations in boat design and technology the two industries changed greatly.

Fishing now became the main occupation for many men who until this time had combined it with other jobs such as crofting. Many towns thrived becoming major ports for herring fishing and at the peak of the herring boom in 1907, 2,500,000 barrels of fish (227 tonnes) were cured and exported from Scotland, the main markets being Germany, Eastern Europe and Russia. Today technical developments have concentrated fishing in the hands of fewer fishermen operating more efficient vessels. However, the fishing industry continues to be important with Scotland landing at its ports over 60% of the total catch in the UK.

In agriculture, increased efficiency inevitably led to fewer jobs on the land, driving people towards the industrial towns. However, at this time specialisms emerged that persist today with regions of Scotland associated with particular crops or produce such as beef in Aberdeenshire and Angus, dairying in Ayrshire and Galloway and market gardening in the Clyde valley and on Tayside. Today some 75% of Scotland’s land mass is used for agricultural production.

Scots at Work

The Scots at Work exhibition ran from April to June 2013 at General Register House, National Records of Scotland. Vistors had the opportunity to view the following items which were on display in the 'Fishing & Agriculture' case:

  • Skipper's ticket issued by the Board of Trade, 1910 - Scottish Fisheries Museum
  • Contract for salmon fishing on the Tay, 1749 - Fife Archives
  • Rosehall farm journal, 1775 - National Records of Scotland, Court of Session records
  • Image of sale of white fish, circa 1906 - Western Isles Libraries
Fishing & Agriculture Records in Scotland

There are nearly 300 archive collections relating to Fishing & Agriculture in Scotland. Many of these are held in local authority or university archive repositories as well as libraries and museums such as the Scottish Fisheries Museum.