Letters / Writing us off as a community?

I was shocked to read the ignorant and disparaging views put forth in the Shetland Times “Regional Outlook” by list MSP Ariane Burgess.

In case you haven’t read it, while waxing lyrical about Scotland’s last great commons – our sea, Ms Burgess proceeds to make a number of either factually incorrect or misleading points.

Since she specifically mentions Shetland, as a representative of the community I feel compelled to address some of these. There are so many I have made a list and will deal with each in turn.

“The sea used to support coastal communities” – The sea does support Shetland, historically, presently and for the foreseeable future. Be it our thriving aquaculture sector, our large fishing fleet, offshore oil and gas, wildlife tourism, cruise ship visits or the much heralded (by the Greens ironically) offshore renewable projects soon to consume our seabed, the marine environment is what keeps Shetland viable. The use of the past tense here is utterly ridiculous in a Shetland context.


“The life in our seas and on our coasts is either gone or in rapid decline” – Is this a fact? Can Ms Burgess cite any sources for this? I don’t work at sea, but as a lifelong Shetland resident I think I would have noticed such an ecological catastrophe unfolding on my doorstep.

“In the face of rising sea temperatures due to climate change and destructive methods of inshore fishing that damage the seabed and destroy habitats, nature doesn’t have the capacity to recover” – Again, can she supply evidence or sources? What methods of fishing in particular is she opposing?

Shetland’s inshore fishery (managed locally by the SSMO) is officially recognised as sustainable. If what she claims is true, how would such an organisation obtain MSC certification? Curiously, at the end of her letter, Ms Burgess states “if we act now, we can reverse the decline.”. Well, which is it? No capacity to recover or an opportunity to reverse decline? The two are contradictory positions.


“Fishing runs in the family, but increasingly young people are turning away from it. They can’t find a way to make it work financially” – In Shetland, this is simply incorrect. You do not have to look for long online to find many news stories of sizeable investment in the local fleet by family owned, young fishing crews.

At 32, I still consider myself somewhat young, and I see classmates of mine who have been at the fishing since 16 and are now skippers, with another generation of Shetlanders behind them as crew. None of them would be doing this if it couldn’t work financially, although our own government and politicians like Ms Burgess seem to be hell bent on making this false statement a reality.


“There are not enough people to do all the jobs required. There are not enough families to maintain the local primary school role. There is not enough of a population to ensure a complete offering by social services to be provided close by” – This is a sweeping generalisation which, while possibly true for a small number of embattled communities, is not the case in most areas.

Small rural and island communities will always struggle to strike the balance between local and centralised service provision, this is not a new problem. As an elected MSP, Ms Burgess could perhaps use her influence to persuade the Scottish Government to properly fund local councils to help ensure the areas she represent have enough resources to provide services.

Overall, I was very disappointed to read publicly the views of someone who is supposed to be fighting our corner at Holyrood seemingly doing the complete opposite, while basically writing us off as a community.


I know first hand that Ms Burgess and other members of her party have had dialogue and met with local representatives of the fishing industry recently. How then can she get it so wrong?

Many within Shetland (myself and the Shetland Islands Council included) have been trying in vain for years to get the Scottish Government and authorities interested in the rampant pollution, unmonitored landings and flagrant rule breaking of foreign owned fishing vessels within our waters.

Surely this is more worthy of government attention and resources than trying to force unnecessary, socio-economically devastating, ill-conceived Highly Protected Marine Areas on an area such as Shetland that does not want or need them.

Perhaps they are too focused on selling off the seabed for wind turbines to spare a thought for our traditional industries.

Councillor Duncan Anderson
North Isles Ward – Shetland Islands Council



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