History of pelagic fishing project

A NEW fishing history project is under way at the NAFC Marine Centre with the appointment of Bobby Gear from Scalloway.

Mr Gear, who graduated from the University of St Andrews this summer, will be carrying out the project on the post-war development of Shetland’s pelagic fishing ind­ustry over the next three years.

The main aim is to provide an accurate and comprehensive record of the changes that have taken place in the industry since World War II. It will attempt to explain how and why the changes occurred, identify the factors that influenced the develop­ment of the industry and examine the wider effects that these changes had on Shetland’s fishing industry and communities.

The project will also compare the changes which occurred in Shet­land’s pelagic fishing industry with those seen in other areas of Scotland, and possibly beyond.

The project is being carried out in collaboration with Shetland Amenity Trust and the University of Hull’s Centre for Maritime Historical Studies, and is being funded by Shetland Catch Ltd (through the Arthur Laurenson Memorial Burs­ary) and Lerwick Port Authority.

Mr Gear said: “I believe this is an important project for Shetland that will record a lot of information that hasn’t been looked at before. I hope to interview fishermen active in the chosen period and record inform­ation for the archives that otherwise would be lost forever.

“From a personal point of view, I’ve always wanted to do a PhD and this is a unique opportunity to do the highest level of study at home in Shetland on a subject which is of great interest to me.”

Mr Gear graduated in June with a joint honours degree in modern history and theology. His honours dissertation focused on the Hanseatic fishing league in Shetland.

He said: “My dissertation was relevant to this study and is perhaps a trial run for the PhD. It certainly demonstrated to the interviewers what I could do.

“I’m also already familiar with Shetland records, the academic literature available and, having work­ed at the Shetland Museum for the past seven summers, I have a good knowledge of the islands’ history and the documentation accessible on site.”

After reading up on the secondary literature available – the existing accounts of the pelagic fishing industry – Mr Gear intends to interview fishermen and other people who were, and are, involved in the industry.

He said: “The ultimate aim is to produce a comprehensive record of changes in the pelagic fishing indus­try over the last 60 years. As well as being of interest to the people who have contributed, it will also be available to the general public and should help fill the gap in knowledge that currently exists in this area of Shetland’s history.

“I hope my study will give people an understanding of the past and will provide good background infor­mation on the post war development of Shetland’s pelagic fishing indus­try for further discussions on its future.

“I am grateful for the funding from both Shetland Catch and Lerwick Port Authority, and look forward to working with Shetland Amenity Trust on this valuable research project.”

The project is being supervised by Ian Napier (NAFC Marine Centre), David Starkey (University of Hull), Robb Robinson (University of Hull) and Brian Smith (Shetland Museum and Archives).


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