Tom 07471 212361

Local control of local waters

Written by Tom Wills

April 7, 2021

Ask any Shetlander and they will tell you how important the sea is to our way of life. From the pelagic boats of Whalsay to the mussel lines in Voe, or the salmon farms operating out of Scalloway to our growing inshore fishing fleet, the sea shapes our community.

By the time I finished studying, I had done half a dozen different seasonal jobs that were dependent on the sea. Every summer from primary school onwards I helped out on my Dad’s boat, showing tourists Shetland’s amazing underwater biodiversity. When I was a bit older, I skippered the boat and did seasonal work that included picking out horse mackerel over a conveyor belt in Shetland Catch, stacking boxes of salmon in Lerwick Fish Traders, and loading cargo boats with frozen herring or fish meal. There aren’t many communities where you can get that range of experience before you’ve started your first full-time job – and be well-paid for it.

Something so incredibly important to Shetland has to be among your MSP’s top priorities. I believe we should get more local control of our local waters and as I mentioned in a previous blog post, I think that in general, more of the decisions that affect Shetland should be taken in Shetland [1].

The Scottish Government is committed to the principle of subsidiarity [2] and the Islands Act provides a way to devolve powers to Shetland, but Shetland Islands Council (SIC) has yet to use this mechanism to ask for any.  We should start by getting more control over waters within the 12-mile limit. Working with the Shetland Fishermen’s Association and the NAFC Marine Centre, I will press the Scottish Government to deliver on its existing commitment to local fisheries management. Holyrood can already regulate within 12 miles without recourse to Westminster and if Scotland were to become independent, the definition of local could be expanded beyond 12 miles.

As your MSP I will also advocate for a greater volume of quota to be managed locally here in Shetland. Shetland already leads the way in sustainable local fisheries management, through the Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation. This success story is a solid foundation for expanding local control to other fisheries. In recent years the local mackerel jigging fleet has greatly expanded, creating jobs and enabling new entrants to get a start in fishing.  That’s the kind of practical local management we need more of. I also want to ensure that we have more control over seabed revenues from aquaculture and renewable projects in the future.

Fishing will always be more important to Holyrood than it is to Westminster and always more important to Shetland than it is to Holyrood. Here in Shetland, we have more fish landed than in the whole of England, Northern Ireland and Wales put together.

We saw how insignificant the seafood industry is to the UK economy when all the fishing ‘red lines’ were quickly dropped by the Westminster Government when Brexit negotiations got difficult.  Seafood is of far greater social and economic importance to Scotland: no Scottish Government would let the industry down in the way that Westminster Governments did when we joined the EU – and again when we left.

It is true that the SNP seeks a closer relationship with Europe than the Tories: but our neighbours in Faroe and Norway have shown that this can be achieved while protecting our national interests. As Shetland’s MSP – and even just as someone who lives in this community and wants to be able to look folk in the eye and say I did the right thing – I know I would have to be on the right side of any votes on fishing.

I look forward to working with the industry trade associations to give our industry an effective voice and to tackle problems like disproportionate inspections by fisheries protection vessels, discarded gill nets and the negative influence of some powerful multinational corporations on our family-owned fishing sector. With increasing local control and a voice inside the party of government, we can seize opportunities for sustainable development and build on Shetland’s reputation as a global example of seafood best practice.

Seafood is fundamental to Shetland: it underpins our local economy. I’m asking folk in this sector to lend me their votes on the 6th May, so that I can work with them to get more done for Shetland.

Ref 1. More powers for our communities – Tom Wills Shetland Campaign (

Ref 2. Lerwick Declaration – Wikipedia