A few weeks ago, the SIC political leader was reported signing a transformational islands growth deal and making the following statements:
“This is really important to the future of the islands, and Shetland in particular,” councillor Coutts said, “This is the opportunity to create those jobs, because Shetland will not be a sustainable community if it does not have jobs and employment opportunities.”
This appears to be a complete change of attitude towards the development of industry from the days when he was councillor for Whalsay and the North Isles.
When the Norwegian fishing company Nergard made a request to build two fish factories in Whalsay that required an extension of the harbour to enable the development to proceed, councillor Coutts suggested that the Whalsay community should take over the neglected and run down SIC owned Symbister harbour and pay for the development themselves.
He appeared to show a distinct lack of support for the development of industry in his island constituency at that time.
What could possibly have changed Steven Coutts opinion; could it be that the clearer air in his present Westside ward, has allowed him to now have a clearer vision of what can be achieved by investing in local industry?
Or maybe it was his elevation to political leader? Or perhaps his comments only apply to what is perceived to be new ‘green’ industries?
This then raises the question: does the SIC also support the fishing and aquaculture industries?
Those industries that continue to provide the largest annual input to the Shetland economy and have sustained the economy for hundreds of years from the abundant sustainable resources from around our shores.
It may well seem that they do not, as a few years ago councillors rejected the proposed fish factories development in Whalsay, based on dubious information and a recommendation made by the SIC director of development, in a report he presented to the councillors.
This decision squandered the opportunity of acquiring grants of 40 to 60 per cent of the construction costs for the proposed harbour development.
The director of development’s report advising dismissal of the project prevented the opportunity for renewed fish processing in Whalsay, after the island had suffered the loss of many local jobs only a few years earlier, when the fish factory that once employed over 100 from the local community finally closed its doors.
The director of development also admitted in an email, that crucial details he mentioned in the report that achieved the dismissal cannot be substantiated, and yet after repeated requests for the decision to be reviewed by the SIC, no further action has taken place.
And now the SIC appears to support selling off an area of Shetland’s fishing grounds for the construction of an offshore wind farm, thus depriving the Shetland fishing fleet of access to those precious fishing grounds.
Despite the apparent negativity shown by the SIC to the fishing industry, Shetland fishermen have continued with their vision and investment.
A new fishing vessel arrived a few weeks ago and was named Ocean Challenge in a ceremony in Skerries and a partnership of young Whalsay fishermen recently arrived with their new vessel, which was named Courageous in a ceremony in the Whalsay harbour.
Many people around Symbister watched the arrival of this welcome addition to the expanding Whalsay fleet of fishing and salmon industry vessels in the harbour, unfortunately from a distance due to the present Covid restrictions.
We wish them all a good fishing and the best of luck with their courageous investments.
However it was noted that if councillor Coutts and his councillor colleagues had not been apparently deceived by the development directors report, the new vessel could have been entering a recently developed Whalsay harbour, including the Nergard fish factories enabling the “opportunity to create those jobs, because Shetland will not be a sustainable community if it does not have jobs and employment opportunities”, thus providing an additional market for the fishermen’s catches, and an opportunity for the SIC to acquire earnings of £1 to £2 million per annum from harbour landing dues.
But alas, councillors were apparently deceived as this development opportunity and its earnings potential, was dismissed.
Only Steven Coutts will know what may have changed his opinion, regarding investment in Shetland’s industries.