SHETLAND’S NAFC Marine Centre upped the stakes in its fight to retain independent status as part of the University of the Highlands and Islands network.
A long list of high profile speakers gathered in Scalloway on Friday morning to celebrate the fisheries college’s 20th anniversary, highlighting the respect it enjoys outside Shetland.
College board chairman Ertie Nicolson said the birthday celebrations were the perfect platform to showcase its strengths as the Scalloway institution heads into uncertain waters.
Its main funder Shetland Islands Council is cutting back its financial support amid plans to merge it with Lerwick’s Shetland College, a proposal opposed by local industry.
Interim principal Willie Shannon described the anniversary as an important milestone and a turning point, as the college widens its scope of activity.
“As well as fishing, marine engineering is going to become more important in the future.
“We also would like to be involved in training the next generation of staff needed for the Sullom Voe Terminal.
“So the areas we want to be working will include fishing, engineering, the merchant navy, scientific research, but the college will always adapt to industry as industry changes.”
Opened on 25 April 1994 as the North Atlantic Fisheries College, it was Shetland’s answer to the lack of any local vocational and scientific training opportunities.
Young fishermen had to go to Orkney to sit their skippers’ ticket, a situation described as “unbelievable” by former Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA) chief executive John Goodlad, one of the eight speakers.
Goodlad paid tribute to the SIC’s former development director Jack Burgess whose hard work and dedication was key to getting the multi million pound project off the ground.
Burgess, now in his 80s, said he felt privileged to have been involved, adding that Shetland should feel “tremendously lucky” to have such a facility.
This proved to be the general theme of the celebrations as speaker after speaker praised the work of the 40 staff working at the college.
Head of the Merchant Navy Training Board, Glenys Jackson, and Maritime and Coastguard Agency chief executive Sir Alan Massey both highlighted the valuable contribution the college’s merchant navy cadet programme makes to the maritime industry, as one of just seven such facilities in the UK.
Massie, who last visited Shetland during the campaign to safeguard Lerwick’s coastguard station, said the college played a vital role in keeping Shetland’s seafaring community safe by providing high quality training courses.
Providing a European perspective, the SFA’s current chief executive, Simon Collins, told the audience of around 60 guests that Scotland’s reputation as a fishing nation was built on scientific research from the government’s Marine laboratory, in Aberdeen, and the NAFC.
He had just returned from Brussels with SFA chairman Leslie Tait where they had been discussing “cutting edge” changes to fisheries policies, something they would have been unable to do without the credibility of NAFC research to back them up.
“It’s ideas from the NAFC that we are taking to Brussels – and they are taking notice,” he said.
Local MP and Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael summed up the occasion, saying: “The NAFC is a good example of Shetland doing what it does best.
“It is taking care of an industry that is at the heart of our economy and probably defines our community more than any other, giving it leadership and protecting its future for ourselves.”
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