WATCH: Fishermen found themselves barricaded off Toft pier this morning when they turned up for work.
The disgruntled skippers turned up at a meeting of the SIC Harbour Board to find out what was happening after being denied access to their vessels – a barrier having been put up by Malakoff workmen overnight.
Immediately after the meeting the skipper, Peter Reid, Billy Reid and Sidney Johnson, spoke to officials to try and sort out what North Mainland councillor Alastair Cooper said was an “unbelievable situation…..I have never seen the like before in my life”.
Fellow North Mainland councillor Andrea Manson said that the council was “bending over backwards” to try and find a solution to what had become an urgent problem.
Loss of pier comes as a bad blow to the shell fishermen who are now entering the busiest period of the year in the run up to Christmas when processors have put their prices up to guarantee landings.
Aside from being denied access to their boats – though they should be allowed onto the pier to shift them today – all alternative piers are further away, already full up with vessels and some downright dangerous to use in foul weather.
According to infrastructure services director Maggie Sandison, a surveyor’s report received yesterday said that use of the pier had to stop immediately and that insurers had then withdrawn insurance for the pier, meaning the council had no option but to close it immediately.
But the skippers say that they had received notice of closure of the pier 12 days ago and that should have given the council enough time to put a pontoon in place for them to berth at.
Mrs Sandison also told the meeting that as only a fraction of the landings dues that should have been paid had been declared, it had hindered the council from putting together a proper business case for repairing or otherwise finding a solution to replacing the crumbling structure.
`Mr Cooper said that the fishermen and processors were “falling over themselves” to talk to the council, to which Mrs Sandison replied that she had found out much more about the use of the pier since the decision had been made to close it and that the harbour dues received suggested much lighter use than the fishermen were claiming.
“The evidence we had was that it was not that substantial an asset to the industry”, she added.
Engineers and health and safety officials were to look at the possibility of using the Toft linkspan, where the ferry berths, for landing scallops. Mr Cooper also suggested the vessels could use their own cranes to lift scallops onto the arm of the pier. But that still leaves the three vessels, Planet, Craignair and Golden Shore without anywhere to berth.
Mrs Sandison said that that it would be a day or two before a decision could be made on the use of the linkspan, or other arrangements at Toft. A meeting was also to be had with Shetland Fishermen’s Association on Monday.
Another suggestion was to ask Grieg’s Seafood if it would be possible to share their pier at Setterness as a temporary measure. It will be two weeks before the pontoon can be put in place at Toft where it will be used until a more permanent solution is found.
Mr Cooper said after the meeting that in interim solution was needed. “We need to see if we can get a pier tomorrow and for the next couple of weeks until the council can put in a pontoon at Toft to allow the boats to tie up overnight. We need to see if the Toft ferry teraminal can allow the boats to land their scallops every night when they come in.
“Then we need a long-term solution, which is probably going to take a couple of years, to get a new Toft pier. It’s very hard for the industry trying to work and make money for their families in the run-up to Christmas, and then all of a sudden, this morning they cannot win to their work.”