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Record whitefish landings, but value down

The fresh-faced Courageous, formerly Guardian Angell, and her young crew who joined the Shetland whitefish fleet this year. Photo Ivan Reid

SHETLAND’S buoyant whitefish fleet celebrated a double record on Friday when it marked its highest ever landings for the year as a whole and the last week in particular.

The final week of the year for local fishermen saw 11,725 boxes landed in Lerwick and Scalloway, the largest since Shetland’s electronic auction opened in 2003.

Despite that figure bringing the annual total to 307,870 boxes – more than 1,000 above last year’s record – the overall value of landings is reckoned to be down by around five per cent on 2014.

For the past three years the total landings have been above 300,000 boxes, the kind of levels not seen since the 1980s.

Since then the size of the fishing fleet has been slashed, but now renewed confidence is seeing fishing crews investing in new vessels for the first time in years.

2015 saw the Shetland whitefish fleet expand by one vessel, with several crews looking at replacing their existing boats.

Guardian Angell skipper Michael Henderson with his brand new boat last summer.

This year the Yell-based Guardian Angell crew invested in a brand new vessel and passed their old boat onto a young crew who renamed her Courageous, while the crews of Tranquility and Resilience have signed deals to replace their boats with new versions.

Meanwhile the Skerries-owned Alison Kay is being lengthened and talks are believed to be at an early stage for two other Shetland whitefish boats to be renewed.

Shetland Fish Producers Organisation chief executive Brian Isbister said that substantially increased quotas for cod and haddock next year are likely to see volumes increase further.

However whether that is reflected in greater income is open to question with the introduction of the new ban on discards, which will mean more smaller fish will have to come ashore rather than being dumped at sea.

Isbister said it was good to see confidence returning to the fleet and skippers investing in new boats once again.

“The boats that are being replaced are old so it’s sensible to renew them,” he said.

“We’re hoping we can retain this new level of landings and the reality is that there is going to be more fish landed as a result of the discard ban.

“The quotas will have to improve to meet the challenges of the discard ban, but whether that is reflected in the value remains to be seen.”

Whitefish prices have remained healthy since the 2008 financial crisis, though there was a decline in the first half of 2015, which may have been due to wider issues such as the strength of the pound and the economies of France and Spain where much of Shetland’s fish is sold.

However the last few months have seen higher prices return to the market, which the sector hopes will continue into the future.

The last fish market of the year was held in Lerwick on Friday, with the first of the new year taking place on Monday 4 January.

The final figure for the alue of 2015’s whitefish landings is unlikely to be fully evaluated until April or May.