FISHERMEN and industry associations have expressed their disappointment at an “excessive” new shellfish landing charge voted through by Shetland Islands Council (SIC) this week.
In a joint response, Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA) and Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation (SSMO) said the two per cent ad valorem rate was unfair and confirmed they will be seeking improvements in the coming months.
Skipper of the shellfish boat Golden Shore, Sidney Johnson, believes the charge is “utterly over the mark” and doesn’t reflect the service available from council facilities such as the dilapidated pier at Toft.
SIC infrastructure director Maggie Sandison said that while discussions will continue, the council’s tightening budget means the shellfish industry “must contribute more to the maintenance and potential improvement” of facilities.
At the latest full SIC meeting on Wednesday, a new landing rate for 2017/18 specifically relating to shellfish was passed by members in favour of a discounted annual landing charge.
The rate, which will see boats under 15m pay two per cent of the value of its landings if it provides the council with regular information, was already amended down from 2.5 per cent following Monday’s harbour board meeting.
If they don’t adhere to the charge then fishermen would have to stump up £30 each time they land undeclared shellfish.
But fishermen believe the two per cent charge is unfair compared to rates elsewhere in the country because of the lack of services offered by the council.
Johnson said Buckie or Ullapool charge 2.5 per cent on landings, but that includes services like refrigeration, forklifts, sheds and help from staff.
The SIC, which says it has “historically” suffered from an under declaration of shellfish landings, estimates it would take in around £40,000 a year from the two per cent rate.
It says it has only received £16,500 in 2016/17, through an annual ‘disc’ scheme covering all landings and 2.5 per cent ad valorem charges.
Johnson said fishermen using the Toft pier have been looking into potentially using private piers to land their catch instead of the council one.
The pier was temporarily shut off to users at the end of last year on health and safety grounds before a pontoon system was put in place.
“What do they think they’re giving us for charging us these levies?” Johnson said. “We pay our dues every year, which entitles us to any SIC pier – that’s always been paid.
“But this is them wanting a cut of what we put up the pier. We’re looking at other places to land actually, and we’ve been speaking to a few private owners who are looking at things we can do.
“We’d still be using the pier to tie up at, but I don’t suppose they’d be getting the quantity of levies they’re thinking. They’ll just be getting nothing up the pier. They’re looking for a golden egg in the wrong place.”
In a joint statement, SFA and SSMO said the new landing charge was unfair on shellfish workers and may cost more for the council to administer.
“We are disappointed that councillors opted for a two per cent ad valorem rate rather than a simpler, flat-rate scheme that by requiring less administration could have generated more net income for the SIC,” they said.
“We believe that harbour dues for our shellfish members are excessive in relation to the poor and deteriorating quality of the facilities available to them, and do not see why other pier users are charged at significantly lower rates.
“We will be seeking a fairer system and a commitment to a better port infrastructure in the months ahead.”
SIC director Sandison said under declaration of landings means in turn that there is less of a “business case” for investment in facilities such as the Toft pier.
“Clearly the council’s financial position is not improving, because our government grants for delivering services and maintaining our assets are reducing, and so the industry must contribute more to the maintenance and potential improvement of the facilities,” she said.
“We’ll continue to work with the SFA and SSMO to implement the new system of landing dues and to have ongoing discussions to address any concerns they might have in future.”