Fishing and cage farming paradise

John Goodlad. © MSC John Goodlad. © MSC
Industry Database

A couple of months ago a rare visitor, John Goodlad - a Shetlander who is also a Scottish fishery personality - passed here with his beautiful daughter.

My grandson took her to swim in the warm Mediterranean waters, while John and I had some hours to talk mainly about the fisheries in his country, which spawned this column.

At the present time John is the chairman of the board of Shetland Catch, which is one of Europe’s largest pelagic processing plants; chairman of the Scottish Pelagic Sustainability Group; chairman of Shetland Fish Products, a fish meal and oil plant; senior fisheries advisor to Prince Charles’ International Sustainability Unit; panel chair and board memberof the Sea Fish Industry Authority; and Chairman of Fisheries Innovations Scotland. The list of his past positions is even longer.

Commercial fishing has been practiced by the islanders since the middle ages. Only artisanal and subsistence-oriented for centuries, it slowly developed into small-scale herring fishing industry. Towards the 20th Century, it relied mostly on second-hand boats acquired in Scotland. It took the devastating effect of the WW2 to start a recovery from the resulting almost ‘ground zero’ condition of the industry. Nowadays, Shetland's fishing fleet is among the most advanced in the UK.

The Shetland archipelago is situated amidst North Atlantic fishing grounds on the intersection of two lines: one running from North Scotland through the Orkneys to Shetland and the other running from Iceland through the Faroes and the Shetlands, ending at Skagerrak Strait. It is around 170km north of mainland Scotland, covers an area of 1,468km2 and has a coastline 2,702km long. Lerwick, Shetland's capital and largest community, has a population of 7,000. About half of the archipelago's total population of some 23,200 people live within 16km of Lerwick.

Only 16 of about 100 islands are inhabited. The main island of the group is known as Mainland. The other large islands, Yell, Unst and Fetlar lie to the north and Bressay and Whalsay lie to the east. All, but one of the inhabited islands lie to the west of the Mainland.

Shetland’s marine yields - wild and farmed, its fish processing industry and other fishery associated infrastructure - are providing for the bulk of its employment and economy. Shetland's fleet consists of 180 boats: eight pelagic trawlers 60-80m in length; 25 bottom trawlers of under 25m and the rest are inshore 8-12m boats fishing mainly for shellfish.

Their total production of 134,000mt, worth £155m in 2014, is made up by own wild catch, 50,000mt landed in Shetlands by other fleets, 35,000mt of farmed salmon, and 2,000mt of mussels. All this together is more than the total catch of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland combined, putting the Shetlanders second only to the Faroese with their per capita marine production.

Nowadays, while vessels are crewed mostly by Shetlanders, there are some foreign hands, mainly from the Philippines, hired to fill manpower gaps. The present fishing fleet consists of four pelagic trawlers catching herring that more recently have been expanding further north; four groundfish trawlers catching cod, haddock, and now abundant hake, and considerable amounts of monkfish that expanded throughout northeast Atlantic over last 20 years.

Wacky management
"Fish quotas are now a main problem,” says John. "Hake, there's plenty of. A potentially disastrous situation has been developing whereby a lack of quota for one particular species may prevent you from risking going to sea and fishing in case you catch that species. If this were to happen what would you do? You can't throw it back for now you need to land it (despite the fact you don't have sufficient quota to cover these landings). I guess you could eat it but, I'm afraid this isn't a practical solution. The most infuriating aspect of this situation is that you may have plenty of quota for other species, but you're stuck with the abundant hake."

This is what I heard from one fisherman some time ago: "Searching for haddock this week we tried a fishing area 80 miles East of Shetland that's a good place for haddock this time of the year. Sadly we didn’t get any haddock but we did get a bumper haul of clean hake, which we have no quota for so our only option was to dump them all over the side. Absolute madness!"

"Naturally,” said John, “when all quota is exhausted, fisherman must either avoid the species for which he has no more quota (difficult!), or discard any catches of that species, usually, dead."

Shetland is also a great producer of farmed salmon, raised in a very friendly environment. This is because the archipelago's geographic location enables salmon farms to be run in sites far removed from industrial and residential population centres where the water is not polluted and has good oxygen content. Local producers are claiming that their farmed salmon tastes like wild salmon.

The Shetland Islands are situated at the juncture of the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea in an ideal location for sustainable certified organic aquaculture. One company, after almost a decade of development and cooperation with hatcheries, feed producers and artisanal farmers, is now producing organic salmon, in accordance with the British standard for organic aquaculture, maintaining environmental and ecological conditions as high as anywhere in the world.

It uses small-batch low stocking density of less than 10kg/m3 of water, without antibiotics, synthesised pigments and chemical antifouling agents. Fish are fed certified organic feed containing organic wheat and full-fat soy, combined with sustainable fish proteins. This feed regimen is a close to natural one, only with more purity and control, with elevated Omega-3 fatty acid profiles and environmental contaminants well below Federal guidelines. 

It is not always the case for one whose job it is to write up world fisheries that I have the pleasure of writing good news. Well, Shetland Islands is definitely Good News.



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