Joint investment in whitefish boats helps provide future for industry
January 23rd 2014
More than £22 million has been invested in three new and eight second-hand boats since the end of a decommissioning programme to reduce fishing capacity in the isles 10 years ago.
Of that, £10.5 million has come in the form of SIC loans at commercial rates, giving a better rate of return to the council than investment on the financial markets – and at the same time securing direct and indirect employment in Shetland.
Brian Isbister, chief executive of Shetland Fish Producers’ Organisation, said: “It is a simple fact that skippers and crew need constantly to invest in their boats to remain competitive in the fishing industry.
“The industry in Shetland remains almost entirely owned by skippers and crews who do not have large amounts of capital to invest.
“Without the belief that Shetland Islands Council has shown in our industry and in the importance of investment to build for the future, we wouldn’t be in a position to make the best of the abundant stocks of fish off our shores at the moment.”
Whitefish landings in Shetland reached 300,000 boxes last year – a record since the opening of the electronic auction system more than 10 years ago – and the fishing industry as a whole accounts for around a third of Shetland’s economy.
Sheila Keith, of the SIC’s economic development department, said: “When the European Commission and national governments lost confidence in the industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the council believed that it was crucial to continue to invest.
“We have had good communications with fishermen and worked closely with the industry to help underpin it for the future.
“But the investment has not only been good for the fishing industry – it has been good for the council too.”
One of the new boats the council invested in was the Radiant Star (LK71), skippered by Burra man Victor Laurenson, who is also chairman of the SFPO.
Victor and his crew are in the process of converting the substantial investment the SIC made in the new boat, launched in 2007, to a term loan.
He said: “The council has been a big supporter of the fishing. If it hadn’t been for them coming with a major share, I don’t suppose we’d ever have been able to build the boat.
“But it’s been a good deal for them too – they’ve got a share of the profits and accumulated a bit of money to support other boats.”
The 75ft Radiant Star was built in Whitby and with a fuel-efficient Mitsubishi engine makes day trips to the West Side of Shetland.
“We had a good year last year,” said Mr Laurenson. “There is plenty of future in the fishing – if you stick at it the rewards are very high. There’s a good living to be made. It’s good that the council has invested in the future locally.”