New independent chair to head up SSMO

Recently retired SIC councillor Alastair Cooper has been elected as the independent chair of the Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation (SSMO).

The former chair of the council’s economic development committee was nominated by SSMO board members after joining as a director to fill a long-term vacancy for a community council representative. He has been a community councillor with Delting for 44 years.

The SSMO controls access to shellfish catching within six nautical miles of Shetland, issuing licences and tailoring fishing effort to keep stocks sustainable for the future.

The organisation is largely funded by the SIC and the 106 licensed shellfish fishermen. They pay for shellfish stock assessments and scientific research by UHI Shetland, including work on protecting marine habitats sensitive to scallop dredging.

Mr Cooper is already familiar with the inshore fishing sector. As a Shetland North councillor, he played a key role in achieving the new Toft pier, which is now well-used by shellfish boats working the prolific grounds around Yell Sound.

Commenting on the issues on his plate in his new voluntary role at the SSMO, he said: “I’m always watching these boys working away off of Mossbank and I’m aware there’s increasing threats to their way of life.

“The weather is worsening, which is not great for small boats, and fuel prices have been crazy. They are losing ever more of their good fishing grounds to pipelines, power cables and expanding fish farms. And then there’s waves of environmental protection measures that are looming which might put even more of a squeeze on them.”

The outgoing temporary chair, Robert Williamson, who runs the fish processor QA Fish, said he was delighted to see Mr Cooper volunteering for the role in his place.

“He’s stepping into a tough job at a tough time with funding hard to get and the fishing under siege from all manner of costs and restrictions. But he’s the right man with a lifetime’s experience in the Shetland economy and he carries a fair degree of respect, which is a rare thing these days.”

Two other new directors are also joining the board to boost representation from the creel sector. Jerry Pottinger fishes with the crabber Cassie May and Karl Dalziel works scallops and creels with his current boat Aquarius, having spent his earlier career on creel boats. Their appointments follow an election among licence holders which saw 72 per cent of them casting votes.

Meanwhile, the SSMO board has decided to invite SIC councillors to attend its meetings to observe how business is conducted. This follows claims that the SSMO lacks transparency in how it manages shellfish issues.