Monday 15 April 2024
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Letters / Deeply disappointing and woefully uninformed

Ariane Burgess’ column in last week’s Shetland Times was deeply disappointing, and woefully uninformed. On behalf of the local fishing fleet, I offer a helpful dose of reality to counter her blatantly misleading assertions. (‘A regional outlook: Your MSP’s views”)

Ms Burgess’ claim that Shetland’s inshore fisheries are in decline is unbelievably ignorant of the truth. “The life in our seas has either gone or is in rapid decline”, Ms Burgess writes – ignoring the fact that Shetland’s inshore waters still teem with the same fish and shellfish stocks that have helped sustain our community for generations.

Unlike Ms Burgess, fishermen can actually offer evidence in support of that statement. UHI Shetland’s Inshore Fish Survey – carried out annually since 2011 – recently reported record levels of squid, as well as finding over a dozen other whitefish species of commercial value. Quotas for 2023, based on government fish stock assessments, have seen increases for most species, plus – on shellfish – our community’s unique Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation ensures sustainable landings of scallops, lobsters, crabs, and buckies by allocating fishing licenses on annual scientific assessments.

Fishermen will continue to base their arguments on facts and scientific evidence, and not blinkered political ideology. All of the available scientific evidence tells us that Shetland’s inshore fisheries are doing well. In fact, Shetland’s inshore fleet – around 170 vessels, almost all of them under 10 metres long – brought home £7.1 million worth of landings in 2022. How could declining inshore waters, apparently devoid of all sea life, possibly continue to support that?

However, Ms Burgess appears to be of the opinion that Shetland’s fishing industry is finished. “Increasingly, young people are turning away from it”, she writes. Again, this is remarkably at odds with reality: with an average age of under 40 among Shetland’s fishing fleet – far lower than any national average. If fishing is finished, Ms Burgess might have had the good grace to inform the young crews of the Defiant, the Comrades and the Brighter Hope – who all had the interest and the confidence to take on vessels and join the Shetland fleet last year.

Fishermen here would also question Ms Burgess’ assertion that they are suffering because of the UK’s departure from the European Union, which – although not the Brexit that they were promised – has delivered some modest quota increases for them. What our fishing fleet is really suffering from is the Scottish Green Party’s apparent departure from reality, and the string of ill-conceived anti-fishing Bute House policies, which – like Ms Burgess’ unfortunate column – do not seem to take actual evidence into account.

If Ms Burgess paid any attention to Shetland and its most important industry, she would surely know that fishing here is not the historic pastime that she seems to imagine – but a modern, locally owned and sustainable way of life that can continue to support our islands. We must question where, or who, her information and opinions come from. How can she think to write such wrongs, without first speaking to fishing crews?

We sincerely hope that Ms Burgess will apologise for the inaccuracies in her column, offer a correction, and take up the open offer to meet with Shetland Fishermen’s Association. We will always be available to help any of our elected representatives better understand the reality of our members’ lives and livelihoods.

Daniel Lawson
Executive Officer
On behalf of Shetland Fishermen’s Association


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