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200 years of blood, sweat and tears…

Seafood has long played a significant role in shaping Shetland. Today, we minimise risk with state-of-the-art fishing vessels and equipment. By contrast, our forebears were more vulnerable, exposed to the same harsh weather conditions of today, but with only the most basic of boats and tackle. It was a hard and often dangerous life, which could lead to disaster, the results of which still impact on some of our communities today.

Fishing superstitions

All fishing communities have their superstitions, and Shetland is no different. The reason for the superstitions may be long forgotten, but many fishermen still abide by them today.

Grif Skerry and East Linga

The small islands east of Whalsay were used as fishing stations during the 1800s; Grif (or Grui) Skerry for accommodation and East Linga for processing fish.

Gloup Disaster

58 fishermen were killed and 10 boats, mainly sixareens, were lost in a freak storm from Iceland. The coastal community was devastated and many families were destitue.

Delting Disaster

In 1900, 4 boats and 22 local fishermen were lost during a storm which came on in the space of five minutes.

Crab Factory 1960s Lerwick

In 1963 after my family had moved to Lerwick I spent my summer holidays working in Shetland Seafood’s Crab Factory.

The Gutters – here come the girls…

Girls as young as 14 were given their first taste of freedom, as they followed the migratory route of the herring from Shetland down the east coast of England, gutting and packing these highly prized fish by the barrel full.


Fethaland (or Fedaland) fishing station, at the north tip of Shetland’s mainland, established in the 15th and 16th centuries, was once the busiest haaf (deep-sea) fishing station, with around 60 boats operating from there.

The Pearls

The pearl in this ring was found by Catherine Emslie’s mother, Ruby Smith of Hamnavoe, while baiting lines in the late 1920s.

Henry Henderson, 1869

Preparing for the launch of the ‘So Much to Sea’ project, Ruth Henderson uncovered an interesting story of her own.

Days at sea

Paintings from local fisherman.

Guddicks: Make Do and Mend

There was seemingly no end to the way in which worn textiles were used to repair or even make new clothing in Shetland.

Ross Don scallop boat

Scallop fishing boat the Ross Don, pictured in peaceful inshore waters c. 1970.

Reliance at pier

Fishing boat Reliance.

In trawl onboard Discovery

Ivor Tulloch with a prize-winning catch on board fishing boat Discovery

Winsome in Cullivoe

LK704 Winsome lying peacefully at anchor in Cullivoe, 1968.

Moder-dy and luder horns

Thanks to Billy Arthur for sharing this picture and information about an old ‘luder’ horn which was used by the Shetland haaf fishing boats as a way of signalling between each other in foggy conditions.

Swan LK243

The LK243 SWAN is a sail training vessel based in Scalloway and Lerwick. Each year, dozens of trainees and members of the public are taken aboard to learn various seamanship skills and enjoy sailing trips around the isles and further afield.

Piltock lines

Piltocks, or saithe, have played an important part in the lives of Shetlanders for centuries.

Leslie Tait

Here Leslie Tait, chairman of Shetland’s Fishing Association now a lecturer in Fisheries and Seamanship at the NAFC recalls his lifelong interest in fishing –

Guddicks: At the Ebb

Amy Lightfoot and Laurie Goodlad explore the significance of the ‘ebb’ in relation to fishing over the years in their book ‘Guddicks’.