NEXT week, 120 Shetland fishermen will make history. Often seen as the poor relations of the deep-sea pelagic fleet, they are about to see their business transformed. On Wednesday in Edinburgh, the inshore fishermen from the far north will become the first in the world to receive Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification.
To receive the honour, the fishermen had to prove the traceability and sustainability of their fishing methods and establish full transparency for the supply chain. It means that Shetland king scallops, and brown and velvet crabs, can carry the MSC blue-eco label and as such demand a premium price. The move is likely to make the Shetland catch hugely popular with chefs who care about their sustainability credentials, as well as eco-conscious consumers.
Edinburgh chef Roy Brett, who owns one of Scotland’s first MSC-certified restaurants, intends to put the Shetland produce straight on his menu. “We are at a very important moment in Scotland in terms of safeguarding the sea for future generations,” he said. “Fishermen, their families and their communities are working together with government, environmentalists and scientists to give our seas a real chance to recover.”
The decision to go for MSC certification was a huge step for the Shetland fishermen, as it meant opening themselves up to a rigorous process of checks and assessments. It took more than a year and cost the best part of £200,000, but they believe it will be money well spent.
The award means Shetland is the only fishery in Britain to have the MSC certificate for brown and velvet crabs and the only one in the world to have it for king scallops.
Scottish shellfish exports already booming, but the Shetland award will give the fishermen an extra competitive edge.
The Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation (SSMO), a partnership organisation set up to regulate and manage fisheries, helped guide the fishermen through the award process. “The certification marks an independent measure of success and demonstrates our long-term commitment to the sustainability of the species and the stocks in Shetland’s inshore waters,” said the SSMO’s Jennifer Mouat.
Scotland will never be able to compete as a cheap source of ordinary food and we shouldn’t even try. Instead, we should learn from the Shetland example and aim high, investing and taking the time and effort to win the awards and gain the certification which says our fish, meat and dairy isn’t just good, it is the best.
Our clean air, pristine waters and stunning scenery give us an advantage. We have to make sure the product reflects that.