STRONG fish prices this year means white fish landings are worth about the same as last year although quantity is slightly down compared with 2018.
About 395,000 boxes of demersal species were landed at Shetland ports in 2019 compared with 430,000 last year.
It’s expected there will be near parity of values with quality initiatives involving the fishing fleet and the markets operated by Shetland Seafood Auctions paying off.
And when new markets at Lerwick and Scalloway open next year, offering double the floor space, the auction will move to an internet basis which will allow buyers to bid from any PC or Mac device.
Shetland Seafood Auctions manager Martin Leyland said that the whitefish picture in Shetland is a huge improvement from the time the auction was set up 16 years ago, when total landings in Shetland were about 120,000 boxes for the year and Scalloway accounting for only 10,000 of that.
Now the West Side port is taking 200,000 boxes annually and the auction has been operating out of a temporary warehouse for 18 months while the new market emerges from the site of the old.
Leyland added: “It has been a success and we have learned quite a lot working in that interim facility.
“When we move to the new market, we will be modernising and the new system will be web based. The main difference there is buyers will be able to buy fish whether they are sat in the auction hall or at a Windows PC.”
It looks like the Scalloway market, owned by Shetland Islands Council, will be operational around the end of January and the Lerwick market at Mair’s Pier, which is owned by Lerwick Port Authority, a month or two later.
Leyland said that the growth of fish landings in Shetland had provided the business case for replacing the two fish markets, which were over 40 years old in the case of Lerwick and about 30 years old for Scalloway.
And the electronic auction had succeeded admirably in meeting one of its initial objectives, which was to get local boats landing to the isles instead of tripping to Aberdeen to land fish.
The effect of days at sea on that aspect could not be ruled out. When boats were limited in the amount of time they spent at sea, it was important that they could land locally instead of spend time steaming to distant ports.
The success of the auction has also drawn in significant landings from, mainly, Scottish vessels and Danes and Norwegians.
As well as improvements to the electronic software, the new markets should enable elimination of much heavy lifting.
According to Leyland, remote buyers have bought £7m worth of fish since 2013, evidence of the trust that has been established with the system.
“The fact that they keep buying year on year is evidence the fish is good quality and the boats have contributed to this plus the scheme we have running with Shetland Seafood Quality Control.
“What we have done as an industry in Shetland is just work together in continuous improvement.
“These markets will enable us to keep going with that improvement and we have a project underway on quality assurance that will back up what the buyers down south have come to expect.”
The two markets also sell fish landed at Cullivoe which is trucked to the mainland and put to whichever market has the most capacity to fill.
The final auctions of 2019 were held on Tuesday morning with 2,900 boxes landed at Lerwick and Scalloway, up by 300 boxes on Monday’s landings.
Cod prices were good, as they have been throughout the year, but fell back slightly on Tuesday. Top monkfish was also selling well at £9/kilo, which equates to over £400 per box.
A spokesman for fish selling company LHD said that several vessels were aiming to sail before the New Year in order to land to the first market on 3 January.
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