shetland fishermen's association generation green woefully misformed

The SFA tells Green MSP, Ariane Burgess her weekend article on the Shetland fishing industry was “Deeply disappointing and woefully uninformed”

The Shetland Fishermen’s Association has found itself defending the islands’ industry against a weekend article by Green MSP, Ariane Burgess which, amongst other things, claimed that fishing is in decline.

Executive Officer, Daniel Lawson replied to the article in the ‘A Regional Outlook: Your MSPs’ Views’ in the Shetland News in which Ms Burgess claims that the waters around Shetland are at risk like the rest of Scotland, that sea life around the islands has “gone or is in rapid decline” and blamed “destructive methods of inshore fishing” for it. She also claims that young people are turning away from fishing as it was financially unviable for them, and there are not enough people on the islands to do the jobs required, and that communities on the islands will “continue to decline”.

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Image: Shetland News

The grey charcoal picture painted by the Green MSP is far from the bright photograph poster image that is representative of the Shetland fishing economy. In a letter to the Shetland News today, Mr Lawson writes:

Ariane Burgess’ column in last week’s Shetland Times was deeply disappointing, and woefully uninformed. On behalf of the local fishing fleet, I offer a helpful dose of reality to counter her blatantly misleading assertions. (‘A regional outlook: Your MSP’s views”)

Ms Burgess’ claim that Shetland’s inshore fisheries are in decline is unbelievably ignorant of the truth. “The life in our seas has either gone or is in rapid decline”, Ms Burgess writes – ignoring the fact that Shetland’s inshore waters still teem with the same fish and shellfish stocks that have helped sustain our community for generations.

Unlike Ms Burgess, fishermen can actually offer evidence in support of that statement. UHI Shetland’s Inshore Fish Survey – carried out annually since 2011 – recently reported record levels of squid, as well as finding over a dozen other whitefish species of commercial value. Quotas for 2023, based on government fish stock assessments, have seen increases for most species, plus – on shellfish – our community’s unique Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation ensures sustainable landings of scallops, lobsters, crabs, and buckies by allocating fishing licenses on annual scientific assessments.

Fishermen will continue to base their arguments on facts and scientific evidence, and not blinkered political ideology. All of the available scientific evidence tells us that Shetland’s inshore fisheries are doing well. In fact, Shetland’s inshore fleet – around 170 vessels, almost all of them under 10 metres long – brought home £7.1 million worth of landings in 2022. How could declining inshore waters, apparently devoid of all sea life, possibly continue to support that?

However, Ms Burgess appears to be of the opinion that Shetland’s fishing industry is finished. “Increasingly, young people are turning away from it”, she writes. Again, this is remarkably at odds with reality: with an average age of under 40 among Shetland’s fishing fleet – far lower than any national average. If fishing is finished, Ms Burgess might have had the good grace to inform the young crews of the Defiant, the Comrades and the Brighter Hope – who all had the interest and the confidence to take on vessels and join the Shetland fleet last year.

Fishermen here would also question Ms Burgess’ assertion that they are suffering because of the UK’s departure from the European Union, which – although not the Brexit that they were promised – has delivered some modest quota increases for them. What our fishing fleet is really suffering from is the Scottish Green Party’s apparent departure from reality, and the string of ill-conceived anti-fishing Bute House policies, which – like Ms Burgess’ unfortunate column – do not seem to take actual evidence into account.

If Ms Burgess paid any attention to Shetland and its most important industry, she would surely know that fishing here is not the historic pastime that she seems to imagine – but a modern, locally owned and sustainable way of life that can continue to support our islands. We must question where, or who, her information and opinions come from. How can she think to write such wrongs, without first speaking to fishing crews?

We sincerely hope that Ms Burgess will apologise for the inaccuracies in her column, offer a correction, and take up the open offer to meet with Shetland Fishermen’s Association. We will always be available to help any of our elected representatives better understand the reality of our members’ lives and livelihoods.

Daniel Lawson
Executive Officer
On behalf of Shetland Fishermen’s Association

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