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Industry warns of cuts to fisheries college

Paul Macdonald of NAFC measuring the length of fish at Lerwick Fish Market and removing otoliths (ear bones) to determine their age - Photo: SFA/SSPO

SHETLAND’S multi million pound fishing industry has warned against any further cuts to the funding for the NAFC Marine Centre, in Scalloway.

The fisheries college is facing an uncertain future due to cuts in the financial support it receives through Shetland Islands Council.

The local authority is also considering merging the NAFC with Shetland College, both part of the University of the Highlands and Islands network.

On Wednesday, the industry made the unusual move to go public with their concern.

They said that the college and its 40 staff played a vital role in the Shetland economy and warned that any cut in funding would have a detrimental effect on jobs in the fishing and aquaculture sector.

Simon Collins, executive officer of Shetland Fishermen’s Association, said many of the projects carried out at the fisheries college were jointly funded by a range of bodies, including the Scottish Government, the association itself and the council.

“Through its activities NAFC is able to lever in funding from outwith Shetland for research – almost £500,000 last year alone,” he said.

“Many of these projects would be put in jeopardy by a funding source such as the council unilaterally pulling out.

“The centre has already faced significant cuts to its budget. A major additional cut would undermine its capacity to carry out this vital work,” he said.

Chief executive of the Shetland Fish Producers’ Organisation (SSPO), Brian Isbister, said that without the college fishing in “Shetland would not be the modern, forward-looking industry it is”.

He added: “We have had to adapt over the years and the focus now is on producing high quality fish and shellfish for markets all over the world in such a way that future generations of fishermen will be able to do the same.

“The staff at Scalloway have been and continue to be integral to that process through applied and academic research, data collection, policy development and training for young people who want a career in the industry as well as existing fishermen.”

“The founding purpose of the centre was to support the industry locally, but it now does much more than that and has an excellent reputation not only in Shetland but beyond the islands, among scientists, civil servants and policy makers. It’s important that we build on that, not cut it off in its prime.”

The work carried out at NAFC Marine Centre for the fishing industry currently includes:

  • Collection of information on so-called “data-deficient” whitefish stocks – including monk, megrim, lemon sole, hake and ling – which is provided to Marine Scotland Science and ICES, the scientific body that assesses fish stocks and suggests quota levels for different species across Europe.
  • Sampling of fish and shellfish at markets and factories in Shetland on behalf of Marine Scotland Science to monitor size and age. This is part of national and international programmes. Length and age of landed fish are important parts of stock assessments undertaken by ICES on haddock, cod, whiting and saithe.
  • Research to increase knowledge of megrim, particularly the biological and ecological factors behind its reproduction, growth and maturation. This work has led to papers being published in several academic journals and a PhD for the scientist behind it, Paul Macdonald.
  • Support for the Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation (SSMO) in the form of data and advice. Without the data Shetland would not have secured world-first Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) status for its scallop, velvet and brown crab fisheries.
  • Collection of shellfish fisheries data that is among the most detailed anywhere in Europe.
  • A wide range of courses for those who want to get into or are already in the fishing industry on both the nautical and engineering side.
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