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Marine / Fishing industry shows signs of recovery

The Defiant is one of the boats due to land fish tomorrow. Photo: Ivan Reid

THE WHITE fish industry is starting to get back on its feet although the delayed opening of two new fish markets is proving a bottleneck for landings.

Shetland Fish Producers’ Organisation chief executive Brian Isbister said that he expected the industry to be back to normal by August, when, he hoped, final work would be concluded at Lerwick’s new fish market and at Scalloway, which just needs floor markings to be laid out.

He said that landings were presently at the limit of what was workable with social distancing measures in place at the much smaller old markets at Lerwick and Scalloway and coming close to last year’s weekly average of 7,700 boxes.

According to Isbister, quota uptake is slightly down on last year while the reduction in this year’s cod TAC has made things administratively easier for that species.

Provision is there for some species quotas to be rolled over until next year, if need be, but with uncertainties still looming over Brexit, he said that the industry would be aiming to catch as much of this year’s quotas as possible.

SFPO chief executive Brian Isbister. Photo: Shetland News

Isbister said: “The last couple of weeks we have been getting 7,000 to 7,500 boxes – getting near to the average of last year. But we are at the limit of what we can land now.

“What would make the biggest change to us is access to the new markets. If phase two can allow construction to start up, we are a couple of months away from the markets being ready.”

In the case of Scalloway, only layout grid markings remained to the painted. This contract has gone to a mainland firm who are not yet able to travel north to complete the job because of Covid-19 restrictions.

Isbister said that fish sales had been decent throughout the coronavirus period, even if prices had been suppressed. He said that the larger UK processors had continued in operation, with smaller operators more likely to shut down their lines.

Isbister said that it had been encouraging that the continental market had “held fairly well” with species like megrim, monkfish, saithe, whiting and to some extent cod, all finding buyers.

Aside from that, the Spanish demand for fresh seafood had remained, in spite of the closure of the restaurant trade.

France had been more unpredictable with periods of fluctuating demand for fish, while Italy, which had suffered heavily from lockdown had been a smaller, but still important market.

Isbister said that while he expected substantial recovery within three months, overall prices for the year would be down, with less money about affecting demand for fish.