The Shetland seafood industry has raised concerns with the Scottish Government about valuable stocks being left behind in Lerwick due to a shortage of freight capacity on sailings to the mainland.
At its quarterly Stewart Group Meeting with transport providers and Transport Scotland today, the industry called on the Scottish Government to deliver on its commitment to develop food exports from Scotland, by establishing a daily freight service between Lerwick and Aberdeen.
The call comes as the industry launches a film on the critical importance of sea freight to the isles, and provides the latest of its quarterly sectoral updates to Transport Scotland on projected growth and new developments underway, including provision of the new fish markets at Lerwick and Scalloway.
The industry already has an estimated annual turnover in excess of £350 million and in the last week has witnessed over £2 million of valuable seafood being left at Lerwick through lack of available capacity due to the freight system’s current timetable for transport to Aberdeen.
“We were delighted to hear the First Minister’s recent statement outlining the Scottish Government’s plan to focus on how to expand Scotland’s exports throughout the world,” said David Sandison, company secretary of the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation.
“This is great news, and a strategy which the Shetland seafood industry is already supporting in a very significant way. At present, however, there is a chronic shortage of freight capacity at certain times, currently intensified by the peak in livestock transportation from Orkney. Unless the current situation is addressed, Shetland’s economy will continue to suffer and the potential for stepping up Scotland’s exports will be undermined.”
Examining the picture in August, Shetland has 24 weekly passenger and freight sailings, compared to 133 to and from Orkney, and this is compounded by a number of these Shetland freight and passenger sailings being shared with Orkney, thus limiting the capacity. There is no freight provision on Tuesday nights from Lerwick and, from now until 20 October, there is no freight vessel on Monday nights, which is one of the busiest nights for seafood traffic.
Ruth Henderson, chief executive of Seafood Shetland said: “Despite NorthLink’s valiant efforts to accommodate all of the seafood from Shetland, there are occasions when this has not been achieved. For example, three and a half trailers of fresh salmon, at a value of around £0.5 million, were left on the quayside on Tuesday 28th August. This has happened again this week, when on Monday, another eight trailers, worth over £1 million, could not be accommodated, having a knock on effect to the Tuesday sailing, which saw nine trailers left behind. In addition, we understand that two Scottish mainland-based fishing vessels, with catches equating to five trailer load, already consigned outwith the auction system, were advised not to land their fish in Lerwick because capacity could not be guaranteed.”
Sheila Keith, policy officer at Shetland Fishermen’s Association, added: “The current freight service vessels are unable to meet sailing schedules during the winter months, exacerbating the challenges of delivering fresh seafood to customers and leading to reputational damage for the industry in Shetland and financial loss for individual businesses.”
Ruth Henderson concluded: “What we are highlighting is that this is truly a lifeline service: one which is a vital line of access, enables an industry and a community to deliver a high-quality range of products, and is the only possible route to market. For the new contract it is imperative that the Scottish Government sources vessels that are designed to cope with the weather on the route and meet our growing freight requirements – both inbound and outbound. We believe that these ships should be fast moving and provide a daily and timely service between Aberdeen and Lerwick with equivalent replacement vessels brought in to cover any dedicated dry-dock periods.”