Shetland shellfish fishermen are set to gain higher prices for their catch when Scotland’s only locally managed inshore fishery gains entry to a prestigious environmental scheme.
The Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation is close to securing Marine Stewardship Council accreditation for sustainable fisheries it controls within six miles of the coast, which include crabs, lobster, scallops, queens and whelks.
In most areas of the UK stocks, particularly scallops, are seriously overfished but the SSMO has successfully managed fishing effort around Shetland over the past 10 years by limiting the number of fishermen, imposing catch rules and helping rebuild stocks through enhancement programmes.
Councillor and board member Frank Robertson said it had been a long haul meeting the MSC’s requirements but Shetland was now poised to become the first area in Britain to gain accreditation for inshore fisheries. He was confident it would mean local shellfish selling “at an absolute premium” in future.
It is hoped the accolade, due to be awarded in June, will open up new lucrative niche markets for the top quality sustainable shellfish catch landed by the 94 licensed fishermen.
The amount landed in Shetland reached 2,178 tonnes in 2009, valued at over £5.5 million.
The council’s development committee agreed on Thursday not to cut its annual grant by 15 per cent due to the spending squeeze but to freeze it at nearly £44,000 for another year.
Council convener Sandy Cluness said local shellfish management had proved a remarkably successful scheme and the outlay was “a fairly modest sum for what it is achieving”.
The funding pays for an executive officer and management costs. Member fishermen pay £250 a year for their licence.
North Isles councillor Robert Henderson suggested one area that needed to be improved in Shetland was the husbandry of lobsters, which are kept tied up in cages near the shore, often for many weeks, awaiting lucrative markets like Christmas. They lose weight and condition during what some see as a cruel practice.
He said shore-based storage was needed where the lobsters could continue to be fed and kept top quality.
Council vice-convener Josie Simpson reminded the committee that Shetland did have a lobster ranch nearly 50 years ago, started up by salmon farming pioneer Gibby Johnson in Vidlin.