By RYAN TAYLOR
FISHING boats arriving at Lerwick with bumper catches have had to be turned away from the market because of insufficient space.
A lack of room has prompted the development of a temporary bay to help deal with the growing influx of fish arriving in the port.
Construction work is currently underway to develop the bay, although it is seen as a stop-gap until a brand new fish market can be built to help cope with a dramatic turn around in whitefish fortunes in recent years.
Plans were unveiled last year to build a larger building and a new quay to help combat the problem.
News of the space shortage comes as figures highlighted in a report by the NAFC Marine Centre in Scalloway show the tonnage of whitefish landings in Shetland increased significantly last year compared with 2006.
Vessels brought a total of 12,814 tonnes to the isles throughout 2007 (up 11 per cent on the previous year) with a value of £19.1 million (an increase of 15 per cent).
Although the market price in whitefish in Shetland increased from an average of £1.43/kg in 2006 to £1.49/kg in 2007 – a four per cent increase – this was actually less than the 19 per cent increase in value seen from 2005 to 2006.
However the trend has been on the up in Shetland since 2003. In the last five years landings have increased by 68 per cent in weight and a whopping 171 per cent in value.
Whitefish landings were dominated by six species – cod, haddock, megrims, monkfish, saithe and whiting accounted for 90 per cent of landings brought in to the isles.
Chief executive of Shetland Fishermen’s Association Hansen Black said the existing market cannot cope with the growing supply of fish in the isles.
“We’ve had to turn away boats with landings here over the last year or so because there’s simply not enough room in the fish market,” he said.
“That’s something being addressed by Lerwick Port Authority, who are building an extra, temporary bay in the Lerwick market.
“It’s temporary because the ambition is to build a new fish market, but that will not happen in the short term.
“The demand for quality is such that we can’t have fish piling up outside the building.”
Part of the reason for the influx is a growing number of vessels from outwith the isles who choose to land their fish at Lerwick.
At the same time, whitefish landings have fallen in Aberdeen by 51 per cent, while Peterhead has seen no change.
Mr Black said Shetland was well placed to capitalise on its potential.
“Our own boats have been landing here and they have been catching more fish, because the waters in Shetland are more productive.
“There have also been additional landings from boats outside Shetland, that have been attracted to landing here predominantly by the strength of the market.
“We’re achieving prices as high as anywhere in the UK. Because of our close proximity to the fishing grounds it puts us in a strong position.
“Historically there was a question about the strength of the market here and the prices boats would achieve when landing in Shetland, but that price differential that used to exist doesn’t exist now.”
That, said Mr Black, was largely down to a quality control scheme, which formed a good base for maintaining fish quality.
The introduction in recent years of the electronic auction had also improved efficiency at the market.
“A combination of having a good location in the middle of the fishing grounds and a strong buyer base has led to a high demand for fish here and the subsequent high prices.”
Pelagic landings have also increased, with 73,578 tonnes – worth £34 million – being landed in Shetland by UK vessels in 2007.
Weight was up 19 per cent on 2006, and value had increased by 31 per cent.
The figures were still below 2005 however – which saw over 100,000 tonnes landed, at over £40 million in value.
The dip comes down to a drop in pelagic quotas, due to payback arrangements for previous unreported landings by British vessels.
Mr Black said the factory at Shetland Catch had done much to attract vessels from across Europe, as well as pelagic boats from Faroe, Iceland and Norway.
“We’ve firmly established ourselves as one of the best bases for the fishing industry. We have the infrastructure, we’ve got port operators committed to supporting the industry, and putting money into it.”
The NAFC report also shows an increase in shellfish landings – dominated by crabs and scallops – with 1,870 tonnes coming to the isles last year, worth about £4.5 million.
Although weight landings were up seven per cent on 2006, their value dipped by seven per cent.
Overall, Shetland accounted for a quarter of all landings by UK vessels in Scotland by weight and 17 per cent by value.
Last year Shetland was second only to Peterhead, with 88,261 tonnes of fish worth £57.7 million coming to these shores.
Peterhead attracted 117,408 tonnes worth 94.1 million.
- FISHING leaders have attended high level talks in London to discuss future quotas for blue whiting.
Mr Black, who attended the meeting on Tuesday, said discussions centred on the total allowable catch to be set for blue whiting when quota talks come up for discussion.
He said blue whiting numbers were coming down “to levels normally expected”, meaning a corresponding cut in quota would be likely in the near future.
Because it is not normally caught for human consumption – blue whiting has more commonly been used for fishmeal – the species has not been of significant interest to Shetland fishermen.
But Mr Black said Shetland Catch had been looking to develop the market for blue whiting as a delicacy.