THE highest number of young fishermen for almost 20 years are studying in Shetland to becoming fishing boat skippers.
Fishing-related courses at the NAFC Marine Centre in Scalloway are in high demand, reflecting the current vibrancy in the industry.
A total of 10 young men, with nine being from Shetland, are studying for the Deck Officer (Fishing Vessel) Class 2 Certificate of Competency, or Class 2 Skipper’s Ticket – which would enable them to skipper boats of up to 30metre or serve as mate on larger vessels.
A further six men, three from Whalsay, on Shetland, and three from Ireland, are on the Engineering Officer (Fishing Vessel) Class 1 Certificate of Competency, which enables them to be chief engineer on fishing boats.
And two cohorts of pelagic fishermen have completed a five-day ECDIS (electronic chart display and information) qualification which allows them to navigate using electronic systems rather than paper charts.
NAFC head of short nautical courses Mark Fullerton, a former fisherman himself, said: “It’s great to see so many guys coming here to study. Many of them are the sons of fishermen that I taught when I started out.
“They are laying strong foundations for the industry in Shetland and we are uniquely equipped here, in terms of staff, knowledge, gear and positioning, to take them on to the next stage.
“Professional development is as important in fishing as it is in any other industry and we work hard to accommodate as many of its requirements as we possibly can.”
Simon Collins, Shetland Fishermen’s Association executive officer, said it was encouraging that so many men were undertaking the three-month course.
He added: “These are young men who are already well into their careers at sea, who have learned a lot but are keen to learn more.
“They are the next generation of skippers of Shetland boats, carrying on the 1,000-year-old tradition of commercial fishing in these islands.
“Fish stocks are at high levels as reflected in the past few years of good landings and the fleet is investing in the future of our most important industry.”
In general the NAFC Marine Centre is busier than at any time since it opened 22 years ago, with the most students being taught the most courses.
As well as the fishing industry, demand from the aquaculture sector and shipping companies is at record levels.
The centre, which opened in 1994 and is now part of the University of the Highlands and Islands network, provides a huge range of services to the maritime industries, including research and development and consultancy and advisory support as well as education and training. It employs more than 40 people.