History of NAFC

The North Atlantic Fisheries College (now the NAFC Marine Centre) was formally opened on 25th April 1994, to provide training and education in all aspects of the seafood industry.

Fishing and seafood have always been the mainstay of Shetland's economy, but until NAFC was built little formal training in these subjects was available in the islands.

Early Days

In the decades following the Second World War there was an increasing requirement for fishermen (from skippers and engineers to deck hands) to have formal, nationally recognised qualifications.

Navigation and seamanship had been taught in some Shetland schools for generations, and in the 1960s and 1970s special classes for fishermen were provided in Whalsay and Lerwick by a few pioneers, such as Jeanette Williamson and Tommy Moncrieff.

By the early 1980s there was a growing recognition in Shetland of the seafood industries’ need for trained and qualified workers. Fishing vessels were becoming larger and more sophisticated; the aquaculture industry was expanding rapidly; the challenges facing the seafood industries were becoming more complex and global in nature; and there was an increasing regulatory demand for qualifications.

The Shetland Fisheries Training Association (SFTA) was established in 1981 to provide training courses required by the industry, but these were delivered on an ad-hoc basis with no permanent training staff or purpose-designed buildings, and students had still to attend colleges outside Shetland to complete some training and obtain their qualifications.

A Fisheries College for Shetland

The establishment of a ‘Shetland Fisheries College’ was amongst the recommendations made by the late Alastair Goodlad in his ‘Shetland Fishing Industry Plan’ in 1984.

The SIC adopted this as part of its strategy to support the local seafood industries. The Shetland Fisheries Training Centre Trust was established in 1988 to administer the new college, and a site was chosen at Port Arthur in Scalloway (the location of a former herring curing station).

Funding for the new college was provided by the Shetland Islands Council and the European Regional Development Fund and building work started at 1991. Even before the college building was complete it was delivering training courses from various temporary premises in Scalloway (including the Scalloway Public Hall and Scalloway School, and classes for fishermen in the former Iceatlantic Offices at Blacksness).

The first classes were delivered in the new North Atlantic Fisheries College building in 1992, although the formal opening of the new college was delayed until 1994.


Although the college had been conceived primarily as a vocational training centre for the seafood industries, the range of training and other activities undertaken soon expanded to include industry-relevant research and development projects.

The centre also became a founder-partner in the UHI Millennium Institute, the project to establish a University of the Highlands and Islands.

The centre underwent a major expansion in the late 1990s, partly funded by the Millennium Commission through the UHI, which included the reclamation of a substantial area of new land to expand the campus. A marine hatchery was completed in 1999. Port Arthur House was opened in 2000 to provide self-catering accommodation for up to 30 students. The John Goodlad Centre was opened in 2001 to accommodate the expansion of the centre’s marine science activities, both teaching and research, and provided classrooms, laboratories, offices and a library (open to the public). In 2002 a new full-mission bridge simulator was installed, and the college’s engineering workshops were extensively refurbished and expanded.

To meet growing demand for marine training, both within and outwith Shetland, a merchant navy cadet programme was introduced by NAFC in 2004 to provide training for prospective engineer and deck officers.

In 2005 the centre acquired a new and more capable fishing vessel Atlantia II, enabling it to undertake a wider range of more ambitious fisheries research projects. This complements the centre’s survey vessel Moder Dy which is equipped with a wide range of sophisticated equipment for the surveying of the sea-bed.

To reflect the much broader range of training and other activities being undertaken by the centre, the decision was taken to change its name from the North Atlantic Fisheries College to the NAFC Marine Centre.

Over the years the range of activities undertaken by the centre has continuously evolved to meet the needs of its customers, and to develop new opportunities. Most recently, the centre has played a central role in the development of the pioneering Shetland Marine Spatial Plan, on behalf of the Shetland Islands Council.

Port Arthur

In 1900 the site now occupied by the NAFC Marine Centre was uninhabited and undeveloped.

A herring curing station was established there in 1904 at the height of Shetland’s early 20th C. herring boom, after an access road had been driven along the shore. The new curing station acquired its name from the Russian far-eastern city of Port Arthur (now the Chinese city of Dalian) which became famous as the focus of the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05.

Although the herring boom did not last, herring curing continued on the site for many years, along with boat building and repairs, and other activities. In the 1970s the SIC built a large housing scheme on the hill above Port Arthur, and in 1984 it acquired the site now occupied by the NAFC Marine Centre.