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Bluemul ferry service disruption

TRANSPORT links between Shetland’s north isles will be disrupted for the rest of this week after the Bluemull Sound ferry Bigga was damaged on Tuesday morning.
Shetland Islands Council’s head of ferries Ken Duerden said the ferry’s stern gland had been fouled by a piece a fencing wire and would have to go in dry dock at Fraserburgh for repairs to be carried out.
A single vessel service will operate between Yell, Unst and Fetlar for the next few days until the Geira comes back into service from the Malakoff slip, hopefully later this week.
Mr Duerden said repairs were further hampered by the bad weather forecast, which could delay Bigga’s trip to Fraserburgh until the weekend. Repairs should not take longer than 72 hours, he said.
Ferry services will operate a Saturday timetable on Bluemull Sound until further notice. The SIC has apologised to the travelling public for any inconvenience.

Heating oil price probe

ISLES MP Alistair Carmichael has welcomed news the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) is to investigate the domestic fuel market following complaints of huge price rises for heating oil.
Mr Carmichael is urging people in the northern isles who have had difficulties with their energy suppliers to come forward with details of the problems they have experienced.

The MP will be making a submission to the review, which will include an assessment of the market for heating oil and other domestic fuels used by households that are not connected to a mains gas line.

Mr Carmichael wrote to the OFT in December asking them to examine the liquid fuel market in Orkney and Shetland after a sharp increase in the price of heating oil. 
One islander who contacted Mr Carmichael in December received a quote for 1,000 litres of oil that was 15 per cent higher than the price offered by the same company on the same day to one of their relatives on the mainland.
“Although some of the recent price hikes can be explained by the international price of oil, it is clear that people in Orkney and Shetland are forced to pay well over the odds for their domestic fuel,” the MP said.

“As someone whose home is off-grid I am all too aware of the strain that increases of this magnitude can put on household finances. I have argued for many years that consumers in the northern isles should be getting a better deal on their fuel and this OFT investigation is long overdue.

“It is vital that heating oil suppliers are subject to the same level of scrutiny as other energy firms. I do not believe that substantial premiums for supplying households in the Isles are justified and will be making a formal submission to this effect during the forthcoming review.

“I would encourage anyone in Orkney or Shetland who has experienced difficulties as a result of the high price of domestic fuel to contact me with details of the problems they have encountered.”

Anyone wishing to contact Mr Carmichael on this issue should email details of the difficulties they have experienced to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , with ‘Off-Grid Fuel’ in the subject line.

In brief for 31 January 2011

Weekend police report

SHETLAND police issued two anti social behaviour fines on Lerwick’s Commercial Street over the weekend for a disturbance and peeing in public.

Four males men were issued fixed penalty tickets for speeding throughout Shetland and there were six reports of noisy music being played during the early hours of the morning over the weekend.

Police asked drivers to be careful and party goers to think of their neighbours.

Keeping children safe

A POLICE project to help parents, guardians and carers to raise concerns about anyone who may have contact with their children was launched across the highlands and islands on Monday.

Community Disclosure - Keeping Children Safe was piloted in Tayside in 2009 and is now being rolled out by Northern Constabulary.

If anyone responsible for an under 18 year old is worried about an adult they may be in contact with, they can ask for limited information about that person to protect their children.

Northern Constabulary is encouraging people to share their concerns under the scheme, but stressed information would only be shared with people, such as parents, guardians and carers.

Acting Detective Inspector Eddie Ross, who is the scheme’s project manager, said: "We have always encouraged anyone who has concerns about any child to share these with police. Each application will be assessed and where necessary and appropriate, certain information may be shared with an individual to help them protect their child."

More information is available at

Clash of views over new seal law

NEW laws to protect seals in Scotland have been welcomed by the salmon farming industry and condemned as useless by a wildlife campaigner.

On Monday the Marine (Scotland) Act made it illegal to shoot any seal in Scottish waters without a licence unless it is to end the seal suffering.

The Scottish government says this will bring an end to unregulated seal management.

They also intend to create a number of conservation areas to protect declining common seal populations in Shetland, Orkney, Western Isles, Moray Firth and Firth of Tay.

Environment secretary Richard Lochhead said the new act would protect both wildlife and industry in the marine environment.

“It will allow industry to maximise the benefits from sustainable fishing and aquaculture while minimising any loss to seal predation and providing important seal populations the necessary protection to breed and survive in our waters."

Salmon farmers have welcomed the new laws, saying that it will force them to report every seal that has been shot, proving how many predators have been killed.

The industry claims it loses £500,000 of salmon every year to seals, and shoots about 500. Wildlife campaigners have estimated the number killed at between 3,500 and 5,000.

Shetland Aquaculture general manager David Sandison said: “Under the new legislation we are being held to account more than we would previously have been, but we also have a legal protection that we didn’t have before.”

He said the new law required salmon farmers to identify an individual “rogue” seal, and demonstrate they had taken every measure to exclude it before using the last resort.

However animal rights campaigner John Robins, of Animal Concern, said the new law would actually give licence holders the right to shoot any seal at any time.

“This is a useless piece of legislation that will do more harm than good. They say they have improved the protection of seals. I say they have done away with the closed season. Anyone granted a license will be able to shoot seals during the breeding season, killing mother seals and leaving their pups to starve to death,” he said.

Almost 70 people have applied for licences to shoot seals in Scotland under the new law.

Robins has objected to all 38 applications from salmon farms, saying they have no need to shoot seals as they should have installed exclusion measures to protect fish under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2006.

He said the government had not carried out any checks to see if fish farms had installed proper predator exclusion nets and acoustic scarers to protect their stock.

He has offered a £2,500 reward for information leading to the first successful prosecution of someone killing seals in contravention of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010.

“We want anyone who witnesses seals being shot anywhere in Scotland to immediately contact the police and ourselves to make sure anyone killing without a government license is caught and prosecuted.”

NHS to tackle staff bullying

NHS Shetland has reaffirmed its ‘zero tolerance’ attitude towards bullying of staff, after a survey showed that almost half of the islands’ health workers had suffered abuse in their job.

Almost 350 staff, around two thirds of NHS Shetland employees, responded to the survey which takes place every two years throughout Scotland.

While most staff said they felt positive about the job they were doing and their working relationships, almost half reported that they had received verbal and emotional abuse over the past year.

In one third of the incidents the abuse had come from patients, relatives of patients or ‘service users’.

Another third reported they had experienced bullying or harassment at work, mostly from other staff, but also from patients, service users and members of the public.

Less bullying and harassment was reported from managers and team leaders.

The survey said that 57 per cent of staff who had reported bullying and harassment were satisfied with the response that they had received.

Three quarters said they intend to stay working for the health board for the next year, and 79 per cent feel that they receive the respect they deserve from colleagues at work

Chief executive Ralph Roberts said: “I am really pleased with the positive comments about working for NHS Shetland that are highlighted in this survey.

"I am disappointed by the apparent levels of concern over bullying and harassment. No member of staff should experience this and we are committed to working with our staff to identify how this can be addressed.”

Operatic treat

ACCOMPLISHED Ukrainian opera singer Oksana Mavrodii who now lives in Shetland with her family is to perform twice this week in the isles with pianist Silviya Mihaylova, from Bulgaria.

The concerts at Lerwick Town Hall on Friday 4 February and Busta House Hotel on Saturday 5 February will feature a varied programme of operatic arias and piano pieces which include Susanna’s aria from Le Nozze di Figaro, Margaritta’s aria from Faust and Consolation No. 3 by Liszt.

Oksana graduated from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama in 2008 since when she has given recitals and performed in operas all over Europe.

Oksana and Silviya also perform for Live Music Now!, a charity that brings live music to those with limited access to conventional music-making, with concerts in Taing House, Symbister Hall and North Haven Care Centre.

Shetland Arts music development officer Bryan Peterson said: “Oksana and Silviya are both exceptionally gifted musicians and their performances are very moving. Audiences will be treated to a rich and varied programme of classic and popular works that showcase their talents.”

Tickets for Lerwick Town Hall and Busta House are £12/£8 and are available from Shetland Box Office on 01595 745555.

Missing fisherman’s family never gave up

THE FAMILY of missing Cunningsburgh fisherman Neil Smith have expressed their relief after finding his body tangled in a leader line of creels two miles east of Bressay on Friday afternoon.

Mr Smith’s family never gave up the search for the 54 year old who failed to return to Lerwick’s Morrison Dock in his 10 metre boat Breadwinner after a day setting creels to catch prawns on Thursday 20 January.

A huge air, sea and land search was stood down after three days, having only found his abandoned boat wedged on rocks on the small island of Grif Skerry, east of Whalsay, around 20 miles north of where he had last been working.

Mr Smith’s brother Rodney managed to board the boat in the middle of last week and remove the hard drive from its computer. Using this, Scalloway marine electronics company H Williamson retrieved the position from which the fisherman shot his last leader.

On Friday Rodney Smith and his two sons Brendan and Don boarded the fishing boat Quiet Waters, skippered by their cousin Ross Christie, and steamed two miles east of Bressay where they found Neil Smith’s body caught up in the ropes of his last leader line.

His brother William Smith said the family did not understand how the accident could have happened. Neil was an experienced and cautious fisherman who had never previously had an accident in his 40 years at sea, he said.

“He was very careful. A lot of people shoot out their gear at full speed but he always shot at three and a half knots, and that gives you time to react if something does go wrong.

“But we don’t know what happened and we will never know what happened.”

Neil Smith had started fishing with his father when he was 15 and worked at sea all his life, apart from two years with Bristow Helicopters during the early 1980s.

After that short interlude he purchased his first fishing boat Crystal Sea and worked single-handed, later replacing the boat with a new vessel from Muckle Roe while retaining the original name.

Two years ago he bought the Whitby registered Breadwinner and worked prawns in the winter time, setting leader lines with 70 creels, while catching scallops in the summer.

He was known for carefully maintaining his vessels and just before Christmas he replaced the Breadwinner’s engine and gearbox. It is believed he may have been experimenting in a new area of seabed when he shot his last line.

William Smith described him as a “quiet” man for whom fishing was “a passion”. He was recently divorced and had no children, but leaves behind four brothers and a sister.

“It’s a great relief to have found him because you can have a funeral and bring things to a close,” his brother said.

Tavish pledge on business discount

SHETLAND MSP and Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott has pledged to reinstate discounted fares for business air travellers if his party wins power during the May elections.

Transport minister Keith Brown has rejected a call from Mr Scott to look again at government plans to exclude business travel from the 40 per cent Air Discount Scheme (ADS) for Scottish islands. The government hopes to save £2.7 million by the move.

In a letter to the Shetland MSP, Mr Brown said the ADS was not designed to support economic activity.

“It is for the benefit of individuals and not organisations whether in the public or private sectors,” the minister wrote.

He admitted that no assessment had been made of the plan’s economic impact, but said the NHS is already excluded from the ADS, and other public bodies should be treated the same way.

Mr Scott, who introduced ADS as transport minister in May 2006, said Mr Brown was wrong to suggest the scheme was not designed to support economic activity in the isles.

“It was designed to help the economic future of the islands, by cutting all fares paid by island residents. As for the current exclusion of NHS travel, that was because the government already paid for patients’ air travel, so that example is no more than a red herring,” he said.

Mr Scott also condemned the government for wasting money policing air travellers who tried to combine personal and business travel, to make sure the full fare was paid.

“They are going to set up what will no doubt be a huge bureaucracy to ‘police’ this retrograde measure. What will that cost? The SNP government is going to pick our pockets and then spend at least some of the money they take on a bureaucracy which we would not need if they would drop this plan.”

He said Shetland would pay a substantial share of the £2.7 million the government hoped to save, “a sum that we cannot afford when the private, public and voluntary sectors all face real economic challenges”.

He added: “If the Liberal Democrats are in power after the election, we will reinstate business travel. I introduced the scheme originally, and, if given the chance, I will restore it to what it was always intended to be.”

Faroe refused mackerel badge

AN APPLICATION by the Faroe Islands seeking sustainability certification for their mackerel fishery has failed following an objection lodged by the Scottish government.

This follows a decision by the European Union to refuse any mackerel landed by Iceland at EU ports.

Faroe and Iceland declared unilateral mackerel quotas last year and have walked away from talks for a new 2011 international agreement.

The Scottish government lodged an objection to Faroe’s application to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) for accreditation and certification of the Faroese mackerel fishery.

Scottish fisheries secretary Richard Lochhead said: “We are pleased that our objection has been upheld, as it is clear that the Faroes is in breach of the criteria to be considered a sustainably sourced fishery.

“This sends a strong signal to the Faroes that pursuing irresponsible fishing practices and grabbing an inflated share of the mackerel stock is unsustainable and no way to manage international fish stocks.

“This latest development once again illustrates that the Faroes should come back to the negotiating table. Our priority is to find a solution to the crisis and reach a new four-party deal – between the EU, Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands – that safeguards the future of the mackerel stock.

“The MSC has a valuable role to play in informing consumers and producers about sustainably sourced fish. Indeed, Scottish mackerel was the first large scale European fishery to achieve this sought after seal of approval, while our North Sea haddock is also now MSC-approved.”

In brief for 28 January 2011

Bird watch

SHETLAND householders are being asked to join RSPB Scotland’s Big Garden Bird Watch this weekend to find out the impact of the cold winter on local bird populations.

Last year 270 people in Shetland took part in the world’s biggest bird survey, when starlings were the most common garden visitor after being spotted in 97 per cent of gardens.

This was followed by the house sparrow, blackbird, feral pigeon, common gull, collared dove, hooded crow, robin and herring gull.

RSPB Scotland’s head of species and habitats Dr Paul Walton said: “Our birds had a difficult start to 2010, coping with the longest prolonged cold snap for 30 years.

“That’s why we’ve been asking people to help the small birds in their gardens by putting out regular food and water. It brings beautiful wildlife close to peoples’ homes and it really helps small birds to survive.”

Town plans

PLANS to create a Lerwick business improvement district (BID) which could win a £20,000 grant from the Scottish government are going well, according to organisers.

This week the BID project team notified the government and Shetland Islands Council that they intended to put up their plans for improving the town centre for a ballot amongst local businesses during this year

The move follows the largest ever survey of the working population in Lerwick about how they would like the town centre to change.

Businesses are being invited to the Lerwick Town Centre Association office in Mounthooly Street to return their forms and to take part in a one to one interview.

A Lerwick BID brand and website should be launched next month while work is done to work up a proposal and business plan.

Body found east of Bressay

SHETLAND police have reported that a body has been found by people searching for missing creel fisherman Neil Smith.

The experienced single handed fisherman has not been seen since Thursday last week when he set off to work east of the isle of Bressay in his 10 metre vessel Breadwinner.

The following morning Shetland coastguard found the empty hull of the boat grounded on Grif Skerry, east of Whalsay.

A huge air, sea and land search failed to find the 54 year old and the official search was called off last weekend, but fishermen and Mr Smith’s family kept up the search.

This week divers retrieved the boat’s computer hard drive which identified the last place where Mr Smith was before he disappeared.

It is understood that today fishermen searching the area east of Bressay found a body amongst creels. Police said that formal identification had yet to take place.

SIC lifeline for Lerwick police station

TWO Shetland police stations are to close, but Lerwick could be kept open 24 hours a day following talks at the Northern Joint Police Board in Inverness on Friday.

Northern Constabulary is being forced to make cut backs of almost £5 million to help meet government savings targets and has decided to close 15 small police stations across the highlands and islands, including Dunrossness and Scalloway.

However the board has agreed to consider proposals from Shetland Islands Council to cover the £50,000 cost of employing three office staff that would keep Lerwick police station open during the night between 8pm and 8am.

The council will meet on 10 February to discuss the possibility of using the police station to run two statutory services, including coordinating emergency transport cover and the Homelink security system for people receiving care at home.

Board member and SIC councillor Alastair Cooper said discussions were ongoing, but chief constable Ian Latimer was very enthusiastic about collaborative working with the public sector.

“I think it’s a good solution for the Shetland community. It will keep the station open 24/7 and allow the police to carry on with front line services,” Mr Cooper said.

The police hope to save £35,000 a year by closing the Scalloway police station and shifting the local officer to Lerwick, while £215,000 could be realised from the sale of Dunrossness police station, with the service moving to Sumburgh airport.

Takeaway man held over indecency

A BURMESE man working at a takeaway in Shetland has been remanded in custody after pleading not guilty to making indecent advances towards three teenage boys at Lerwick Sheriff Court on Friday.

Lon Sai, whose address was given as Castle Café Takeaway, Scalloway, made will go on trial in the court on 24 February.

The 30 year old is charged with sexually assaulting two boys aged 13 by touching their buttocks during December and January.

He is also charged with making sexual remarks and indecent hand gestures towards the two boys and a third 13 year old boy, and making them in front of two other boys aged 12 and 13.

All the incidents are alleged to have taken place at the Castle Café Takeaway.

Sheriff Graeme Napier refused bail after concerns were raised about Sai’s passport.

Union raises stakes in pilot dispute

SHETLAND’S entire economy could be put at risk if the local council goes ahead with plans to replace marine staff at the oil port of Sullom Voe with untrained replacements, according to trade union Unite.

On 5 January Shetland Islands Council gave tanker pilots at Sullom Voe 90 days to accept a new contract of employment which would raise their retirement age from 60 to 65.

The move followed lengthy negotiations to squeeze port staff into the council’s single status agreement that was settled with the majority of the council 18 months ago.

Further talks are to take place with the pilots and the crews who operate pilot boats and tugs in the harbour.

However those talks have been soured by reports the council has approached a major recruitment agency for pilots who could work at Sullom Voe at short notice.

This week Unite regional industrial organiser John Taylor warned that the council was treading into dangerous waters if it wanted to replace experienced pilots with recruits who were not trained in navigating the treacherous seas around Sullom Voe.

Mr Taylor said he could think of no reason to recruit new pilots unless it was to break a possible strike or make up numbers if some or all the 10 existing pilots refuse to sign the new contract.

He said strike breaking was not the action of a responsible employer and employing agency pilots did not comply with the Pilotage Act 1987 or the Department of Transport’s Port Marine Safety Code.

Any temporary pilot would require between three and six months training before they were competent to work in Sullom Voe.

Mr Taylor warned: “I can’t believe Shetland Islands Council would even consider doing something this rash, because when a pilot goes aboard a ship not only has he got responsibility for the well being of the ship and the safety of the crew, he’s also got responsibility for a major part of the Shetland economy.

“If one of those tankers runs aground and there is an oil spill or a major fire that would have a detrimental effect on the whole economy of Shetland.”

He added that if the council went ahead with the move, the union would immediately contact the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and oil company BP who operate the terminal at Sullom Voe.

“I don’t believe for one minute that the MCA or BP would sanction such a move, especially after Texas City and the Gulf of Mexico.”

The union has advised the council not to attempt to bring their marine staff under single status as it is a commercial operation running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, while single status is designed for people who work more straight forward shifts.

Mr Taylor said: “We suggested the only way around this is to take the pilots, the pilot boat crews and the tug crews out of the single status and have it is as a separate entity. They said no.

“At a time when we are trying to resolve a very difficult and tricky situation with the implementation of single status and Ports for the Future, this new matter has created a feeling of mistrust and that doesn’t help resolve these negotiations.”

The SIC’s chief negotiator Gordon Greenhill, executive director of infrastructure services, has refused to comment on the talks.

However he has said that the council would not be acting prudently if it did not have contingency plans in place in the event of strike action.

In brief for 27 January 2011

Road cash

ROAD damage caused by the harsh winter weather has provoked the Scottish government to hand out an extra £15 million to local authorities to carry out repairs, including £243,000 to Shetland.

The amount of cash is three times last year’s level and will go towards the cost of extra snow ploughing and gritting, filling in pot holes and paying for extra road salt.

SIC head of roads Ian Halcrow welcomed the extra cash, saying it was especially useful at a time when budgets were running tight at the end of the financial year.

Man in water

SHETLAND coastguard and the Lerwick lifeboat were called out on Thursday morning after a man was reported in the water at Lerwick’s Morrison Dock.

The man had slipped while trying to disembark his boat but had already been rescued by the time the coastguard arrived on the scene, and the lifeboat was stood down.

Found jewellery

POLICE are looking for the owners of two pieces of jewellery found in Brae this month.

A male item was found on 1 January and a female item on 20 January, police said. Any claimant should contact the Lerwick police station on 01595 692110.

Eastern airways

AZERBAIJANI Airlines have just announced they are to start flights to Aberdeen, as well as Amsterdam and the Czech resort town of Karlovy Vary.

Womean fined for dog worrying sheep

A WHALSAY woman who allowed a Norwegian elkhound to run through a field of 15 sheep near her home was fined £200 at Lerwick Sheriff Court on Thursday.

Christine Polson, aged 43, of Woodstock, Isbister, admitted allowing the young bitch to worry sheep in a field at Grunnataing.

Procurator fiscal Duncan Mackenzie said that elkhounds are bred to run and bark, but not to attack. However he said their behaviour had caused “trepidation” amongst people walking past the woman’s house.

Mr Mackenzie said that she had already been spoken to by the police about keeping her dogs within the confines of her garden, but accepted that the dogs were not as dangerous as people thought.

The fiscal said: “There may well be a basis for her contention that their trepidation is without any basis. She clearly looks after her dogs well and she responded in the correct way when this matter was brought to her attention.”

He added: “The dogs might well be trained to run and bark and not to attack but the sheep don’t know that and it’s well known the damage that can be done to sheep simply through fear.”

Calls for Scotland to control coastgaurd

THE SCOTTISH government has called for the coastguard in Scotland to be brought under Holyrood control during a parliamentary debate on Thursday.

Rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead told MSPs the government was dismayed by the UK government’s plans to close three of Scotland’s five coastguard stations, leaving just Aberdeen open 24 hours a day.

The SNP government will now run its own consultation on how the coastguard service would best be managed in Scotland, including devolving control.

Mr Lochhead said: “Maritime safety – not financial savings – should be the driving force behind any review and the Scottish government is closely examining the rational for the closure of any of these services.

"With ever increasing activity on Scotland’s seas – through oil and gas, offshore renewables, fishing and tourism – I have real concerns over the UK government's ability to manage the coastguard service.

“That's why we are seeking views on how this valuable public service can best be managed in Scotland, including the merits of devolution.

“The UK government announcement came as a complete surprise to the Scottish government as there had been no formal discussion on the matter. This is unacceptable and is contrary to the 'respect agenda' agreed last year.

“The first minister will be writing to the prime minister to express his disappointment that matters with clear implications for Scotland are not being handled sensitively."

Man sold drugs to feed his habit

A SHETLAND man admitted selling drugs to feed his newly acquired heroin habit when he appeared at Lerwick Sheriff Court on Thursday.

Procurator fiscal Duncan Mackenzie told the court that 25 year old Matthew Smith, of 13 Grodians, had only recently become addicted to the Class A drug, but his habit had “quickly become quite aggressive and he is now well integrated into what we would call the local drugs scene”.

On Thursday Smith pled guilty to being concerned in the supply of the Class C drug diazepam after 900 pills worth 50p each were found in his possession in Lerwick and Scalloway on 8 September last year.

Smith also admitted being in possession of personal quantities of heroin at 38 Sycamore Crescent, Scalloway, on 2 July, and a small amount of methadone on the following day.

Charges of taking and driving away a car without the owner’s permission and driving without insurance at Sycamore Avenue and the Scord, in Scalloway on 3 December were also admitted.

The case was deferred for reports after defence agent Tommy Allan said that Smith had been prescribed the heroin substitute methadone by his GP and wanted to be placed on a drug treatment and testing order.

Police praise crime free festival

POLICE in Shetland praised the organisers and public following another trouble free Up Helly Aa event.

The only problem reported all night was the electricity failing at the TA Hall around 5am, which prompted some revellers to call it a night.

On a quiet Wednesday morning as a large percentage of Shetland’s population slept off their night of carousing, chief inspector David Bushell said: "This year’s Up Helly Aa event has again gone very well. Several thousand persons took part in the celebrations which passed with no reports of crime or disorder being made to us.

“This is a unique event which is always a pleasure to police. I would like to thank the organisers and the general public who have again helped to ensure this was a safe event, free from any crime."

Call for tougher mackerel sanctions

SCOTTISH fishing leaders are calling on the European Commission to step up sanctions against Iceland in the current mackerel dispute.

Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association chief executive Ian Gatt told the European Parliament’s fisheries committee on Tuesday that the sanctions announced this month against Iceland would have no impact on the island nation.

European fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki recently announced that all mackerel landings would be banned from EU ports after Iceland unilaterally increased its mackerel quota to 147,000 tonnes.

Scottish fishermen say such catch levels are unsustainable and threaten the stock and the future of pelagic fleets.

Iceland say the species have migrated into their waters, giving them the right to catch more fish.

Mr Gatt told the fisheries committee that if other countries took the same attitude they could catch all the mackerel before they reached Iceland or the waters around Faroe, which has taken a similar unilateral stance.

"That's simply no way to manage fisheries if we are to pass on healthy stocks and viable enterprises to the next generation," he said.

He pointed out that Iceland has no history of landing whole mackerel in Europe, instead processing the species at home and exporting it as fishmeal.

“What we are saying is that you have to widen this out a bit to cover any of the fish they are processing themselves and exporting to the EU. Why should we take fishmeal products made with unsustainably caught mackerel? We shouldn’t.”

Mr Gatt said it was a major step politically to take out sanctions against a country applying for EU membership, but MEPs had to decide whether it was more important to enlarge the community of nations or protect existing members.

“It doesn’t seem very fair. We are members of a club and we are looking for protection and as far as I can see there is very little. For me this must be a choice between what is more important, enlargement or looking after existing members.”

In brief for 25 January 2011

Coastguard campaign

SHETLAND coastguard were out on the streets of Lerwick on Tuesday gathering signatures to support the campaign to save the coastguard coordinating station at the Knab from government cuts.

As visitors from around the world gathered to witness the spectacle of Up Helly Aa, many signed up their support pushing the number of signatures over 5,000.

On Thursday Shetland MSP Tavish Scott will be joining the Scottish Parliament debate on the government’s coastguard closure plans, when he will call on fellow MSPs to call for the proposals to be withdrawn.

Woman charged with spitting assault

A THIRTY year old Lerwick woman with a drink problem was granted her liberty for at least two days when she appeared from custody at Lerwick Sheriff Court on Tuesday charged with assault and threatening behaviour.

Caroline Tulloch, of 40 Norstane, is accused of shouting, swearing, knocking over furniture and ornaments, as well as spitting at a man and then claiming she had Hepatitis C.

The alleged offences were committed while Tulloch was on bail, raising concerns that she may be locked up until her next court appearance on Thursday.

The case was continued without plea, and Sheriff Graeme Napier released Tulloch on bail on condition that does not get drunk or carry alcohol in a public place over the next two days.

The sheriff added that if she turned up in court on Thursday under the influence of drink or drugs she would be put in the cells and charged with contempt of court.


Burns night Shetland-style

A FIERY sun rose on Tuesday morning across Shetland as the 65 strong squad of Guizer Jarl John Hunter aka Johan Sanderrevet of Valsgärde prepared for the islands’ own burns night on Tuesday.

The morning’s brilliant red sky may have warned of poor weather ahead, but the Viking gang that marched through Lerwick on as fine a day as they could have wished for were well kitted out for the worst the Norse gods could throw at them later on.

The Jarl and his men sported the rich, muted tones of sea and land - long blue woven cloaks, deep green tunics, thick leather kirtles carrying an intricate design of a flaming torch on the front, long black trousers and calf length brown leather boots.

The costume included one novel feature that may prove popular in farming circles, each squad member bearing the skins of six rabbits across their shoulders.

The most impressive aspect of their attire was that it was almost entirely hand-made by the squad themselves – all but the boots, the trousers, the kirtles and, of course, the “ring”.

The ring is in fact a bracelet and like in Tolkien’s famous trilogy, it forms the basis of the entire saga on which this year’s Up Helly Aa is based.

Johan Sanderrevet was a restless Swede in the 9th century who sailed west on board his galley Jägere only to be hit by a storm of such severity that all but three of his fleet of  longships were driven onto the cliffs of Fugaey.

The Viking believed he was saved by his magical armlet made of woven gold called Svíagris; but this armlet was lost as he wintered on the isle of Oxna west of Scalloway.

More than a thousand years later a gold bracelet less than three inches in diameter was found by a young James Fullerton on that same island, a bracelet which can now be seen in Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland.

Today copies of that bracelet adorned the chest of every member of John Henry’s squad as they filled an already packed Lerwick Town Hall.

After a rousing performance of the Up Helly Aa song and Bring Me Sunshine, SIC convener Sandy Cluness handed the Jarl the freedom of the town for 24 hours – an opportunity he promised to make the most of.

John Henry spoke of the tradition in which he has steeped himself since his youth, his membership of two squads who combined for today’s festival, and the fire festival’s importance in holding the community together amidst rifts over school closures and wind farms.

It was an occasion that couldn’t help but have an impact, not least on VisitScotland’s new chief executive Malcolm Roughead. Witnessing it for the first time, he was clearly affected by the palpable “sense of pride” amongst all present.

It may have helped him understand the feelings that led to Shetland Islands Council withdraw funding from VisitScotland two years ago and set up Promote Shetland, claiming that the national body did not understand how to present the islands to the outside world.

Tuesday morning also brought back memories of last year’s event, when former chief executive David Clark occupied a chair in the hall to watch the proceedings. That afternoon he left his office up the stairs never to return to his first public sector post.

In his stead this year sat Orcadian Alistair Buchan, who may have been the “friend” referred to in the convener’s speech. Citing a list of countries around the world from where friends had gathered for the occasion, he said: “We have friends here from all over the civilised world, and at least one new friend from Orkney.”

West side nature plan

SHETLAND’S west side community is being asked to join in a project to enhance the natural environment in the area.

The Living Shetland Project has already developed five community-based biodiversity action plans for Sandwick, Bigton, Yell, Fetlar and Bressay.

The next plan is to be developed for the west side, taking in Skeld, Gruting, Walls and Sandess.

Community plans usually involve identifying and cataloguing habitats, areas and species that are of local importance.

They also help develop small community projects to enhance or promote biodiversity, such as community gardens, woodlands, school gardens, local interpretation and walking routes.

Shetland Amenity Trust ranger Howard Toull said that community involvement was the key factor in highlighting areas and species of local importance.

“The west side of Shetland has great potential with regard to biodiversity, with some very good community projects already underway. We want to capitalise on this further through the development of a plan for the area,” he said.

A public meeting will be held at Gruting hall on Wednesday 2 February at 7.30pm to look at the proposal, demonstrate the importance of some west side habitats and outline funding opportunities for potential projects.

A public meeting is to be held in the Gruting Hall on Wednesday 2nd February at 7.30pm for anyone who is interested in hearing about this project or assisting with its development.

More information is available from Mr Towll on 01595 694688 of local community worker Mick Clifton on 01595 745303.

SIC looks to expand high speed broadband

SHETLAND Islands Council is being asked to look into creating a superfast broadband network that will help the islands match communications in large cities.

On Thursday the SIC’s development committee will be asked to set up a project team looking into rolling out high speed broadband throughout the rural areas of Shetland, including some of the most remote locations in the UK.

The move follows the council’s groundbreaking plan to connect to the Faroese fibre optic cable that cross the isles before reaching the Scottish mainland, on which work commenced last week.

The Shetland Telecom fibre optic link will create a two speed service, connecting Lerwick and Scalloway, but leaving the rest of the islands relying on the existing BT wireless link that has suffered so many problems in recent months.

High speed communications are becoming increasingly important in the modern economy and the council has long wanted to improve its connections to underpin both local businesses and public services.

SIC telecoms manager Marvin Smith says that demand for broadband speeds doubles every 18 months and by 2020 Shetland will expect 1,000 megabits per second (mbps).

Currently rural council departments and schools are connected through the Cable & Wireless Pathfinder network, but that contract ends in 2014, when demand will have already reached 100mbps.

Using BT to replace the government funded Pathfinder network would cost an estimated £4.75 million.

Mr Smith will invite councillors to examine the possibility of the council extending its own fibre optic network with wireless connections to small islands, such as Fetlar that already enjoys a 10mbps pilot connection.

There are 12 business parks and 10 doctors surgeries that could be connected along with police and fire stations.

Providing high speed broadband to these areas could create possibilities for local communities to connect to the council cable.

The project team, if agreed, will be given three months to report back on its findings, which will include producing a specification, design a network by March 2011, investigate public funding and 1gbps wireless connectivity to the remote parts of the islands.