Inshore fishermen in Shetland’s north mainland were unable to access their shellfish boats on Wednesday morning after the islands’ council put up a barrier preventing use of the dilapidated Toft pier.
Three shellfish boats are currently tied up at the pier, which council-commissioned engineers have deemed to be unsafe.
It could scarcely come at a worse time for the scallop fishermen, whose produce attract by far their highest price at this time of year in the lead-up to the festive period.
The owners of the three boats, Sidney Johnson, Billy Reid and Peter Reid, were surprised to discover first thing this morning that a barrier had been put up overnight.
They then travelled to Lerwick to attend Shetland Islands Council’s harbour board meeting to find out what was going on. Immediately after that talks were held with council infrastructure director Maggie Sandison and other officials.
Both parties said the option of putting a pontoon in place, and the alternative of landing scallops at a private facility owned by Grieg Seafood on the east coast, were now being looked at urgently.
Johnson said the situation was extremely frustrating because the barrier “went up last night when we were all sleeping – we only found out this morning that we couldn’t get to our fishing boats”. The crews had returned home unpaid, and he felt it was “a bit underhand”.
“This is a high value time for us when the price of scallops rockets through the roof,” he said, “and we’re going to miss that if we can’t sort something quick.”
Other alternatives such as berthing at Cullivoe and Burravoe were unsuitable, but Johnson acknowledged Sandison’s “hands are tied with legalities and insurance”.
Sandison said she explained during the meeting with the scallop fishermen why things had “escalated so quickly”.
Last week a survey was commissioned to look at another repair option that involved injecting resin to stabilise the structure, but that survey identified that the pier’s condition had worsened considerably.
She said the council was moving as fast as it could to find a temporary fix, speaking to both Grieg Seafood and the LPA while also working to create a more permanent solution.