A plush event was held in Lerwick Town Hall last Friday to mark the success of Shetland’s aquaculture industry, and the achievement of the isles becoming the largest regional producer in Scotland.
The occasion – a champagne reception, seafood dinner and dance – also celebrated the 25th anniversary of the forming of Shetland Salmon Farmers’ Association, now known as Shetland Aquaculture.
A full-time PhD degree project over three years has been created, with the aim of telling the story of the industry and the people who have been involved from the beginning to the present day. The collated information will inform the publication of a popular book about the sector, as well as be used for exhibitions and events.
Some 125 people from current and former aquaculture employers, hauliers, insurance brokers, bankers, accountants, vets, the NAFC Marine Centre, Lerwick Port Authority and Shetland Islands Council attended the event, with a meal prepared by chef Glynn Wright and his team from Shetland College.
Shetland Aquaculture general manager David Sandison said aquaculture had a relatively short history in Shetland, but in little more than a generation it had grown from nothing into a multi-million pound industry, which now provided over 300 direct jobs and supported approximately 700 more in processing and supply chain businesses.
Mr Sandison said: “The sector has experienced significant expansion, major technological developments and overcome some challenging periods to become the foremost food sector in the islands, producing healthy and nutritious seafood to the farm value of over £120 million per year. To ensure there is a comprehensive record of the immense change and beneficial effects of our sector on the islands, we aim to tell the story of the industry spanning 25-plus years. We are in the process of recruiting a candidate for the PhD, as part of the School of Nordic Studies within the University of the Highlands and Islands.”
Organisation chairman Michael Stark highlighed the fact that from very modest beginnings Shetland was now the largest regional aquaculture producer in Scotland, accounting for approximately 30 per cent of the total national output.
Mr Stark said: “This has been achieved with the help of significant investment and support from a wide range of skilled and dedicated people in the industry, the council, the port authority and enterprise agencies over the last 25 years, which has helped to develop significant and vital ancillary services including processing, transport, feed, engineering and environmental monitoring.”
Earlier this year, the influential United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (UN FAO) recognised that aquaculture was the fastest growing food-producing sector in the world, accounting for over 50 per cent of the world’s seafood.
In 1980 only nine per cent of the fish consumed by people came from aquaculture. The UN FAO also reported that aquaculture was the only way to meet the surging demand for seafood.
Looking forward to the next 25 years, Mr Sandison added: “Aquaculture is key to meeting the growing global demand for sustainable seafood. In the EU market of half a billion people alone it is forecast that consumption will grow by a minimum 0.5 per cent per year for at least the next 25 years. To those engaged in aquaculture production in Shetland, this represents a massive opportunity to deliver further benefits.”