A convincing case for the value and retention of NAFC Marine Centre was made in Scalloway yesterday at a 20th anniversary celebration.
A string of guest speakers emphasised that the NAFC was key to Shetland’s biggest industrial sector – fisheries – before an invited audience at the centre.
Since its opening, 20 years ago, the college had evolved from being the hub of isles fisheries training to develop an international reputation for scientific research and become one of only seven training centres for Merchant Navy officer cadets in the UK.
Now the centre, which is threatened by potential funding cuts from Shetland Islands Council, is seeking to expand its business base further by wooing trainees from the resurgent oil and gas industries.
Although speakers expressed confidence in the future of the NAFC, it is clear it will not easily shrug off a major cut in funding from the council.
First on the podium was John Goodlad, who was credited by NAFC interim director Willie Shannon with a major role in setting up the college.
Mr Goodlad in turn acclaimed one-time head of SIC research and development Jack Burgess with playing a pivotal role in the centre’s genesis. He told the story of how the NAFC had helped the Shetland fishing industry expand within a declining overall UK sector.
Mr Goodlad said that since the NAFC had opened Shetland’s share of UK whitefish quota had grown from five per cent to around 20 per cent and had around 30 per cent of the important mackerel quota. Shetland was now one of the major fishing centres in the UK and in fact Europe.
The number of aquaculture firms in the same period had shrunk from 60 to only three, but they produced same amount of fish. This contraction and “globalisation” of the fisheries sector and an ever greater emphasis on training would continue in future.
Joint head of NAFC marine science Beth Leslie told how her department played a critical part in informing a number of sectors and policies.
Dr Leslie said those included feeding information to UK and EU scientists on “data limited” stocks such as monkfish; preparing the scientific case for the inclusion of a multi-species shellfish fishery in the MSC accreditation programme; scientific input to local fishermen’s association policy; and the formulation of the ground-breaking marine spatial plan for Shetland, the first of its kind in the UK.
Shetland Fishermen’s Association chief executive Simon Collins attested how useful having the scientific backing of the NAFC was in negotiations with the European Commission.
Uniquely among Scottish fishermen’s organisations, the SFA had its own scientific briefing to back it up in arguments with beauarocracy, Mr Collins said. That gave the association a “credibility” and “influence” far beyond its mainland equivalents.
Head of the Merchant Navy training board Glenys Jackson said that the NAFC had taken a “brave step” in offering deck officer training 10 years ago when the UK government was looking to expand its merchant fleet.
That had paid dividends with the creation of highly successful engineering and deck officer training departments and Ms Jackson was “delighted” to be in Shetland for the centre’s 20th anniversary.
The other speakers included local councillor Mark Burgess, Maritime and Coastguard Agency chief executive Alan Massey, UHI vice-principal Ian Bryden and isles MP Alistair Carmichael.
A full report will follow in next week’s Shetland Times.