SHETLAND Fishermen’s Association chairman Leslie Tait has been awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours list for services to sea fishing.
The 63 year old from Trondra, who spent 34 years at sea, has chaired the association for the past eight years having previously chaired the Shetland Fish Producers’ Organisation for eight years.
Tait said the award had come as “a huge surprise”, and regarded it is an honour for the industry as a whole rather than for him personally.
“As chair of the SFA I am a figurehead, and somebody has to take on that role,” he said.
“But in the background, and far more important than me, are the fishermen themselves who over the years have sacrificed a great deal to ensure that the industry in Shetland has a future.
“That’s important, not just for the economy but for the wellbeing of smaller communities around the islands which, without fishing, might well wither and die.”
SFPO chief executive Brian Isbister said he was delighted for Leslie, who he described as “a stalwart of the Shetland fishing industry for many, many years”.
Isbister said: “A highly respected and able fisherman, he has taken his knowledge and understanding of the industry into the corridors of power in Europe, the UK and Scotland to Shetland’s great benefit.
“He has an immense passion for the industry in Shetland and in his quiet-spoken way has been a powerful advocate for it.”
Tait skippered the 75ft whitefish boat Harmony (LK 63), which he bought in 1983 and decommissioned in 2002, after which he attended the NAFC Marine Centre to upgrade his qualifications before returning to sea.
Instead he was offered a post as lecturer in navigation and seamanship, a post he still holds.
“I hadn’t intended to come ashore, but due to the opportunity offered by NAFC and family reasons, and the fact that I was able to keep in contact with the industry, with young men coming through and learning the ropes, it seemed the right move to make,” he said.
“Those were hard times at the fishing. However, much progress has been made and it’s good to have some positive news about the industry after so many years in the doldrums.
“We have major challenges ahead, especially with the discard ban, but I think some of the powers that be in Europe who set this legislation are now starting to realise that it is ill-founded in its present form.
“So rather than dismiss Europe, we need to get in there and convince them that there are other ways of doing things, especially for a small community like Shetland which is so dependent on fishing and has a proud history of seafaring.”
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