Freight disruption has forced the closure of Shetland’s fish markets – harming exports worth a six-figure sum.
Delays in the Helliar leaving dry dock have left Shetland without a freight vessel until Friday at the earliest.
With fish markets forced to close tomorrow (Thursday), as many as 2,000 boxes of fish will not be dispatched to customers across the UK and Europe.
Shetland Fisherman’s Association (SFA) has condemned the Scottish government’s failings.
Executive officer Sheila Keith said: “Transport Scotland has been warned about the fragility of our freight service for years, and the embarrassing lack of contingency options regularly causes problems for seafood producers.
“Shetland’s reputation for quality fish has been built on freshness and continuity of supply. Breakdowns and other issues will arise in any service, but Shetland seafood producers – and their customers – pay the price for this lack of resilience time and time again.”
Relief vessel Arrow had been operating the Northern Isles route but returned to the Isle of Man on Monday, compounding the situation locally.
Seafood Shetland’s Ruth Henderson said this week’s events had brought the fragility of the service into “very sharp relief”.
“They also highlight – yet again – the continuing intransigence of Transport Scotland to address the issues faced on the Northern Isles routes to ensure that the economy of Shetland – and, indeed, the economy of Scotland – is not undermined through the organisation’s failure to understand the impact of its inaction.”
Scottish Sea Farms head of operations Ewan Mackintosh estimated the delayed orders had cost his firm more than £250,000.
The SFA said the fish markets’ closure would also hit whitefish exports with an estimated value of more than £200,000.
It pointed out there was still no guarantee when full freight services would be restored.
Transport Scotland said ministers were clear about the importance of supporting freight for the economic wellbeing of island communities.
“While the management of dry dock periods is matter for the operator, we understand the impact that this delay to the Helliar’s return to service has on those that depend on the ferry links,” it added.
“The operator has amended timetables for the Hildasay and we are pressing them to ensure measures are in place to ensure that all time sensitive and livestock volumes are shipped.
“The planned development of the two new freight vessels will address issues like this in the longer term, but work is being carried out to explore potential shorter term actions that could alleviate some pressures on the freight service.
“Caledonian Maritime Assets also continues to look for suitable second hand tonnage that could be added to the Northern Isles fleet.”