The new £7.6 million white fish market, which opened in August, could be viewed as a statement of confidence in Shetland’s fishing industry, which is the biggest in Shetland, worth an estimated £320 million a year to the local economy. It’s important to the UK, too. More than a quarter of all the fish landed in the UK is landed here; more than the total in England, Wales and Northern Ireland combined. With Brexit approaching, and the possibility of bigger quotas in 2021, Shetland is hoping that an already booming portion of the local economy can get even stronger.
The new market at Mair’s Quay replaces the market at Laurenson Quay, upping the size of its temperature-controlled bays from 726sqm to 1,600sqm. Outside, the dock has been deepened, meaning that larger boats can berth – not just from the hundred-plus boats that make up the Shetland fleet, from tiny shellfish boats to the largest pelagic vessels, but also boats from the Scottish Mainland and elsewhere, who will be able to fish in the rich grounds around Shetland and not have to travel all the way home to process their catch.
In another part of the market, home to changing rooms, canteens and offices, the Dutch auction system has been updated with new technology and two screens, effectively meaning that local buyers can bid for boxes of fish twice as fast, with two sales happening at the same time. Following classic rules of supply and demand, representatives from half a dozen or so local companies compete for boxes, which are soon electronically tagged, shrink-wrapped and loaded into temperature-controlled trucks to head to the Mainland and well into Europe, whether to top London seafood restaurants or Continental supermarkets. Higher-value catches such as monkfish, lemon sole and halibut are hand-graded, and fetch higher prices than haddock, pollock and more common fish.