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Government agency suggests that the Shetland fishing and aquaculture sectors consider scaling back landings and production.

The seafood industry and hauliers met with Transport Scotland and Serco NorthLink Ferries on Tuesday (21 June 2022) to repeat their demand for a solution to the capacity issue on freight transport services to and from Shetland.

Despite the growth in freight volumes, repeated calls to Transport Scotland and a succession of Transport Ministers to resolve the capacity issue have brought no resolution. Officials from Transport Scotland, attending the meeting in person for the first time since lockdown, heard first-hand the continuing challenges faced by hauliers and their customers and were presented with some potential interim solutions to alleviate the pressure on the route.

“As peak livestock season looms – with no freighter in Lerwick on a Monday or Tuesday – and in a desperate and constructive effort to find a solution – we tabled our own options to the meeting,” said chief executive of Seafood Shetland, Ruth Henderson. “In the absence of an extra freight vessel for the Shetland/Aberdeen route being procured immediately, we suggested sailing the freighters every day with current layover days (when the freighters remain in port) used to provide services on the Shetland/Aberdeen route direct; sailing passenger ferries back-to-back twice a week, starting on, say, a Tuesday; and diverting some livestock-related cargo to the Pentland Firth.”

The Group now awaits Transport Scotland’s response. Meanwhile, the Government body’s own solution was that the fishing and aquaculture sectors consider scaling back landings and production to ease the pressure on the freight service.

“When Transport Scotland’s solution is to ask these sectors – whose output is so significant not only to the Shetland economy but also to the Scottish economy – to consider reducing their production, then it does seem that we have reached an impasse,” Ruth continued.

“We have worked over many, many years to inform government officials about the commercial realities of this situation. This process has included commissioning an independent report to provide the detail and the evidence – as requested by Transport Scotland.

“Our representations, the data provided by the ferry operator, the report, and potential solutions have all been summarily dismissed by the agency and by the Scottish Government. To say that this is disappointing is an understatement: it is inexplicable.”

“We pay millions of pounds every year for the freight service,” Tavish Scott of Salmon Scotland added, “and are simply not achieving what we need in order to sustain and grow the sector and the economy. Despite our best efforts, there is no evidence that any action is being taken to resolve the very real issues that our inadequate freight service brings to bear on the economy of the islands and Scotland as a whole.

“The response regarding the fishing and aquaculture sector scaling back is simply unbelievable and demonstrates a breathtaking ignorance of economic and industrial realities. Here we have a booming industry providing employment (including the second largest fishmarket facilities in the UK) and delivering products for an international market. Long-term inaction from Transport Scotland, however, is now compounded by this sad response.”

Shetland Fishermen’s Association’s executive officer, Simon Collins, said: “Once again, we ask the agency and the Scottish Government to do better, to listen to constructive proposals, and to work with us. Shetland-based industries are working very hard and very successfully for Shetland and for Scotland.

“The Scottish Government’s ambitious growth targets have been well documented. We have it in our power to help them to achieve their aspirations, but we are not only being thwarted by their very own transport agency, we are being asked to rein in our own ambitions in international markets.”

Tavish Scott concluded: “Having tabled proposed solutions at the meeting today, we look forward to a quick and positive response. We cannot accept the situation as it is: it must be resolved as a matter of urgency.”