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Letters / An SIC fish factory on Whalsay

Mackerel migration routes

In 1987/88 the Lerwick Harbour Trust made an inspirational move when they persuaded the investors in Shetland Catch to build the new pelagic fish factory in the Lerwick harbour, a decision which in the years since has earned many millions of pounds of income for the LHT (now Lerwick Port Authority).

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Surely this is an example of financial judgment the SIC would have been wise to have followed; if they would have had the foresight to have built the pelagic fish factory in a Shetland Islands Council harbour those millions of pounds of landing dues would have been in the SIC profit account.

The present Lerwick Port Authority has increased their efforts in recent years to entice the oil industry and cruise ships into the harbour.

The success of this means, there are now very few berths available in Lerwick for fishing vessel maintenance and lay up and even less with the required water depths for maintenance on the larger vessels between seasons and also for laden vessels waiting to land fish at the fish factory.

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The LPA are however building new piers and a new fish market for the benefit of the whitefish sector, which is an example of how they value the fishing industry into the future.

The last major development in the SIC owned Whalsay harbour “which is now not capable of containing the full Whalsay fishing fleet” was the creation of two new berths by sheet piling and facing up the inside of the outer rubble breakwater in 1992.

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From 1992 to 2002 Whalsay based fishing vessels/companies borrowed and reinvested previously held assets; in an effort to stay competitive and survive, a figure was invested well in excess of £40 million in boats and quota.

From 2002 to 2012 Whalsay based fishing vessels/companies again in the same manner borrowed and made in excess of £100 million of investment, to modernise their fleet and acquire catching rights for British fish quotas, which were being bought up

These vessels play a major role in the economy of Shetland as fishing and aquaculture put an estimated £340 million in to the Shetland economy last year, in addition to the many hundreds of millions of pounds in previous years.

I have already presented the SIC with information regarding the abundant fishing activity around our isles and still the SIC do not appear to appreciate the unique geographical position Shetland holds, sitting on the edge of the Gulf Stream, which feeds plankton rich waters all around our shores and into the North Sea.

Foreign fleets of fishing vessels are continuously fishing in these waters. Surely it would be wise to try to encourage more of them to land fish in Shetland for the benefit of Shetland’s workforce and economy.

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If you view the chart showing the mackerel migration routes, you can see that the majority of the stock pass by Shetland in both directions and usually stop to feed around Shetland in the end of the year before migrating into the south west.

The result of this was in the past year, the UK end of year quota was virtually all caught within three miles of the Shetland coastline and much of it taken back past Shetland to be landed and processed in Norway.

In one week in 2010 Norwegian fishing vessels were recorded landing mackerel in Norway for a total value of £50 million, all caught within 60 miles of the Shetland coastline; they were still fishing around Shetland over a month later.

Faroe and Iceland fully appreciate the value of this fishery as is evident by their piratical quota grabbing in recent years, while the SIC appear to be unaware of the potential these shoals of fish could have for the prosperity of Shetland, as we sit in their midst and the fish and opportunities they present annually pass us by.

We know the council is at present in the process of making spending cuts, but surely the council should also be trying to make the most out of the assets we have on our doorstep, to benefit the present and future economies of Shetland.

The cost of borrowing is at present very low and is surely worth considering for improving the economic development of Shetland.

If the SIC are not in a position to take the offer of funding for building the Whalsay tunnel, is it possible that this source of funding could be used to pay for an upgrade to the Whalsay harbour, at very little expense to the council?

A pelagic fish factory and net loft on the pier would encourage vessels into the harbour, the harbour dues from fish landings alone could cover the repayment costs of the loan, and create a harbour to make profit for the SIC long into the future.

I would implore the present SIC not to ignore the fishing around us; it is an annual asset we in Whalsay did not ignore and by making investments in the fishing industry, we appear to have thrived on it, so far.

William Polson
Whalsay

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