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Fishing bodies fear for training centre

Fishing bodies fear for training centre

Fishing chiefs fear a council review of higher education in Shetland could put a vital training centre for the industry out of business.

The NAFC Marine Centre – part of the University of the Highlands and Islands – has already been warned to expect major funding changes next year.

It currently relies on Shetland Islands Council (SIC) and other bodies for financial support, but some councillors have questioned why it gets so much cash locally and suggested it should seek funding elsewhere.

Shetland South councillor George Smith fears continued support at current levels threatens the future of Shetland College amid growing pressure on the council’s education budget.

He recently suggested fishing, fish farming and other marine industries could contribute to NAFC Marine Centre funding.

Council economic development manager Douglas Irvine has also said the financial package “can’t stay the way it is”.

Yesterday, a joint statement from Shetland Fishermen’s Association (SFA) and Shetland Fish Producers’ Organisation (SFPO) highlighted the centre’s “vital role” in the local economy. It added: “Any substantial further cut in financial support by Shetland Islands Council would undermine the important work the institution’s staff carry out for the fishing industry locally, nationally and internationally.

“Given that fishing and aquaculture account for around a third of the local economy, such a move would have a detrimental effect on employment.”

SFA chief executive Simon Collins said: “Through its activities NAFC is able to lever-in funding from outwith Shetland for research – almost £500,000 last year alone.

“Many of these projects would be put in jeopardy by a funding source such as the council unilaterally pulling out.”

SFPO chief executive Brian Isbister added: “The founding purpose of the centre was to support the industry locally but it now does much more than that and has an excellent reputation, not only in Shetland but beyond the islands.

“It’s important that we build on that, not cut it off in its prime.”

Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong said: “We would regard any threat to NAFC as very serious.”

A spokeswoman for SIC, which recently approved a £1.17million grant to the college for the coming 12 months as part of a package, said: “The council agreed a three-year funding package for the centre and has no plans to change that.”

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