By JOHN ROBERTSON
A group of inshore fishermen have come together to demand more say over how their fisheries are run in Shetland.
The newly formed Shetland Inshore Fishermen’s Association (SIFA) wants a representative on the 10-strong board of the Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation (SSMO) because it believes working inshore fishermen have too little say over controversial issues such as who is granted much-sought-after permits to fish within the six-mile zone.
SIFA is being led by Voe scallop fisherman Sidney Johnson, who chairs the group, with Billy Anderson of Gonfirth as vice-chairman. Eleven members had signed up earlier this week, representing less than one-tenth of the 122 permit holders in Shetland, but Mr Johnson said support was gathering. “It is early days for us but we’ve started a ball rolling down a fairly steep hill and it is going at an awful speed.
“We just felt we had to get a voice in the industry. There is that much happening that we don’t know about and we have no part of and it affects our livelihoods.”
The move comes in the middle of a consultation process by the SSMO as it seeks renewal of the shellfish regulating order before its 10-year term runs out in January. An extension is wanted until the government introduces the new Shetland inshore fisheries group (IFG), which is a new idea currently being piloted in parts of Scotland to improve inshore management.
Mr Johnson said the new group was not out to wreck the regulating order and leave inshore waters vulnerable to a fishing free-for-all. Instead, it wants a voice in the decision-making process, instead of feeling excluded, with the aim of improving how the SSMO runs. It does believe there has been poor management and fishermen’s voices have been drowned out by others.
“They have probably never seen a scallop dreg or a creel being operated and they are making decisions that can drastically affect our livelihoods. By issuing a licence to somebody that is going to be fishing in directly the same area as you that is obviously going to have an effect.
“This is really a step to try and make sure that the fishermen have a bigger say in how it is run and not just a few individuals. If there is anything left to salvage of the regulating order then we would like to be part of it.”
By forming an official association they would have to be kept in touch by the government and other organisations and hope to get a seat on the SSMO board. Currently its 10 directors include four from the Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA), SIC councillors Frank Robertson and Jim Henry and representatives of the Scalloway fisheries college, Scottish Natural Heritage, shellfish buyers and the Association of Shetland Community Councils. Mr Johnson, who, along with some other members of the new group, is not in the SFA, said: “I think it’s time now for a new outlook.”
Three years ago he did lead an attempt to smash the regulating order. He presented a petition to the Scottish Parliament signed by 600 people, including nearly 50 permit holders, which called for the scheme to be scrapped.
A big part of that dispute centred on the SSMO’s inability to discriminate in favour of full-time fishermen against part-timers who already made a living from other jobs. The organisation was also accused of being undemocratic and secretive.
As part of the SSMO’s consultation a meeting was held at the college in Scalloway on Monday for creel fishermen and there are sessions tomorrow for scallop fishermen and one for the public from noon to 2pm. The organisation wants any comments in by 15th May.
The SSMO has been undermined by controversy ever since the Shetland Fishermen’s Association got the law changed in the late 1990s in a pioneering move to allow local control. Originally the idea was to prevent big lobster and crab catchers from as far away as the Channel Islands coming to fish out the stocks. Instead it has been used mainly to control local fishermen’s efforts, conserve stocks and build up a large body of knowledge about stocks in inshore waters.
Members of the new group met on Wednesday night to produce membership application forms and set up bank details. Mr Johnson said anybody with an active interest in inshore fishing around Shetland (shellfish or whitefish) was welcome to join, whether they are permit-holders or not.
Current members include Donnie MacKinnon, Stanley Gray, Ivor Polson, Ronnie Johnson, Martin Hay, Cecil Slater, Michael Watt, Richard Grains and Karl Dalziel.