PRINCE Charles paid a flying visit to Shetland to officially open the new Lerwick and Scalloway fishmarkets on Friday afternoon.
It was the first time he had set foot in the islands since he opened the Shetland Museum and Archives in 2007 after two recently planned visits were foiled.
Both markets have been operational since the middle of 2020 and it had originally been intended for the prince, whose title in Scotland is the Duke of Rothesay, to carry out the unveiling last summer but it was postponed due to Covid-19 restrictions.
He had also been scheduled to visit Shetland in 2019 but his aeroplane broke down, and he joked that it “used to be much easier to come here” when he was travelling on the Royal Yacht Britannia.
Thankfully the foggy weather which had disrupted travel in and out of the islands earlier this week cleared to allow the Duke to land on Friday morning.
During his main engagement at the new Lerwick Fishmarket the Duke observed fish landings, toured the facilities and visited the auction hall during a tour of the £7.6 million complex, before sampling a dram of Scottish whisky.
Prior to officially unveiling plaques to open the Lerwick and Scalloway markets, Prince Charles said it was a “great privilege” and the competition of the two facilities “reflects the fact that the fishing industry and its traditions remain a real cornerstone to the economy and way of life to the Shetland people”.
“It still remains, to me anyway, an amazing statistic to know that more fish pass through the Shetland Isles than England, Northern Ireland and Wales put together,” he told the industry figures and dignitaries gathered outside the fishmarket. “I suspect many people don’t realise that.
“And it’s also wonderful, if I may say so, to know that Shetland is leading the way with its state-of-the-art electronic auction facilities. And unlike so many other fish markets, the auction system in Shetland links up to buyers across the world to sell its splendid fresh fish products.”
Shetland Fish Producers organisation’s chief executive Brian Isbister said it was a “great privilege” to welcome the Duke, and the opening of the two markets “signifies a proud moment for all of us here”.
Isbister said the completion of the two projects was “testament to the resolve” of those involved in an industry employing over 400 fishermen, while the electronic auction system was able to turn Shetland’s remote location at the heart of “some of the richest fishing grounds anywhere” into an advantage.
On the anniversary of the first landings at the new market, Lerwick Port Authority’s new chairman George Anderson said: “It is a great honour to host The Duke of Rothesay’s visit to open both markets.
“The visit coincides with the anniversary of the first landings and marks what has been a successful, if challenging, first year due to Covid.
“The construction of the Lerwick Fishmarket was the climax of a lengthy, coordinated programme of projects, involving dredging and building quays, designed to future-proof the market’s role in helping to sustain and develop the fishing industry’s contribution to the Shetland economy.”
The Duke was also welcomed to Lerwick Town Hall by representatives of Shetland Islands Council, which invested £5.6 million in the Scalloway Fishmarket.
At the town hall he learned about local produce and knitwear, and he met representatives from the council and the police as well as MP Alistair Carmichael and MSP Beatrice Wishart.
The prince also took time to meet those involved Shetland’s response to Covid-19.
Convener Malcolm Bell said: “We were very pleased to be able to have the opportunity to host His Royal Highness, and let him see some of the best the isles has to offer in terms of food, drink, music and textiles. We’re proud of the recent restoration work on the Town Hall and its spectacular windows, which he seemed to be particularly appreciative of.
“He also had the chance to speak to some of those who have very much been on the front line in Shetland’s response to the pandemic. We wish him well for the rest of his visit, and look forward to welcoming him again in the future.”
Later in the afternoon the Duke paid a visit to Scalloway’s NAFC Marine Centre, which is in the process of merging with Shetland College to form a single college, Shetland UHI.
There he met students, staff and apprentices and saw research and engineering facilities, as well as experiencing the NAFC’s naval simulator, before meeting representatives from the Shetland RNLI.
Prince Charles, who seemed comfortably at ease in the surroundings and engaged warmly with those he met throughout the visit, then rounded off his time in the islands by being shown around Uradale Farm by farmer Ronnie Eunson.
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