In and About Lerwick Harbour, 1980s & 1990s

As I mentioned in my first blog “Island Life”, I was blessed to have been brought up in my early years in my beautiful island home. It was when I travelled to mainland Scotland and, as a student, worked inland with no sea in sight, that I realised what the sea meant to me. Settling down to work and live in the old North road in Lerwick I am but a stone’s throw from the sea. One of my first sights looking out our window usually passing 7am in the morning, is the Northern Isles ferry boat preparing to dock just below our house.

P&O Ferry St. Clair Leaving the Harbour with Wool Store in Foreground

I feel it would be appropriate to share with you some of my experiences and images from in and around our harbour. Lerwick, the capital of Shetland, originated as a fishing village and continued as such until the 19th century, when it became one of the major herring ports of Britain. I have talked briefly in earlier blogs about the drift net era of the herring industry and my family’s involvement with the fishing. The drift net herring fishing industry as I knew it came to an end in the late 1960s, being replaced by pelagic herring fishing.

UK Purse Netter Landing at a Reefer

Lerwick was a thriving location for the Eastern European fishing fleet in the 1980s and early 90s. A wide range of vessels including trawlers, factory and reefer transport would call to the anchorages in Lerwick both south and north to tranship fish between their vessels and load from the UK and Irish fishing fleet. The number of these vessels could get up to about 200 at the height of the busy herring or mackerel season. With the vessels brought an influx of visitors to the island, and it was a common occurrence for the people off the vessels to trade with locals both on goods they took into the UK and also buying items locally, even thing like cars were bought and sent back to eastern Europe.

Eastern European Vessels, Early 1990s
Crew Members on Their Way Back to the Ship

The collapse of the Soviet Union and clampdown on marine regulations in the UK saw the market die off in the late 90s. Over 15 years, as many as a 100 factory ships from Eastern Europe had tied up just outside Lerwick harbour for eight months of the year to buy from the fishermen. Local shopkeepers suffered a mini recession with the departure of the Klondike fleet. We had a frequent visitor at the wool store; a gentleman who came from Poland. He would exchange goods with us and I remember him baking a cake for us on their departure. It was not just their money that the people of Lerwick missed but also their friendship.

One of the fleet that didn’t make it back foundered on Bressay.

I was very fortunate to have a close connection with the Klondike era as our son began his career as a shipping agent servicing the Klondike fleet. At this time we as a family enjoyed trips off in and around the harbour with my late father in law’s boat and I was able to capture images of the industry, similar to the drift net herring industry now confined to history.

Family Trip to Bressay Lighthouse Pier, 1990s

I would like to thank our son Adrian for sharing his experiences of this era, a major part of Shetlands fishing history.

Our Son Adrian on his Way to the Klondike Fleet, 1994

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