Shetland Anglers Association is urgently seeking a new hatchery after its lease at Kergord was terminated and the building allegedly “rendered inoperable”.
According to the angling association it was never given the option of extending its £1,500 a year lease and extensive reinstatement work would need to be undertaken before the hatchery could be up and running again.
One angler, who did not want to be identified, questioned the legality of “damaging” the hatchery while it was still being leased by the angling club. He claimed that the fish ladder had been filled in, pipework removed from the building and the dam emptied.
“It has been rendered unusable as a hatchery and is no longer viable as a hatchery without major re-investment,” he said. “I doubt the legality of this, but our main concern is that we have been left without a hatchery.”
The anglers association has restocked large numbers of sea trout grown in Kergord into areas that have traditionally supported strong populations.
Association secretary Alec Miller said: “We are not happy about this. We were surprised that we were not consulted when the work was undertaken as we were the lease holders at the time.”
The hatchery owner, Shetland Arts, is selling the building and surrounding land to raise capital following an expensive and protracted dispute with construction firm DITT over the building of the Mareel arts centre. It had given the owner of the adjacent land, Brian Anderson, permission to remove sluices from the dam after he complained about flooding on his ground.
Mr Anderson, who also owns the access for servicing the dam, said that he was forced to open the sluices after years of futile complaining about flooded ditches on his land above the dam.
He is presently negotiating with Shetland Arts to buy the hatchery. The organisation meanwhile confirmed in a statement that the centre sluice, which feeds the hatchery through a pipe, had been “inoperable for some time” and that draining the dam allowed it be inspected for the first time since the trust had bought the building.
The work was done on 12th and 13th of October, two weeks before the lease expired, to take advantage of a period of dry weather before the wet autumn weather set in.
Shetland Arts director Gwilym Gibbons claimed his organisation only became aware of the anglers’ intention to renew the lease after the maintenance work had been carried out.
“Regrettably Shetland Arts’ decision to sell the property has not enabled us to renew the lease and we are aware that the angling association are currently sourcing an alternative to the hatchery,” Mr Gibbons added.
“The work has also opened up the watercourse to allow wild fish to head up stream beyond the dam without obstruction. A number of sea trout have been observed in recent weeks using this new route.”
The anglers association had an emergency meeting last Friday to discuss the future of rearing its fish. It has meanwhile put its trout broodstock into the Loch of Brouster at the Bridge of Walls but is having to spend money on feeding them.
Mr Miller said the association would be approaching commercial hatcheries, of which there are several in Shetland, for a new home for its broodstock.
He said the fish were due for stripping next week. The eggs could be fertilised and released in the wild where they had a slim chance of survival, but this would require official approval.
Mr Miller said that wild trout could still move up the burn now that the sluices had been removed from the dam, and that access for wild fish was actually “technically better” than it had been, but that the arts trust property would surely be worth less following the “damage” done to the hatchery and its surroundings.
The angling association rented the north end of the hatchery building and it is understood the rest is used by Shetland Arts for storage.