Busiest Ever Year at NAFC

2018 has been the NAFC Marine Centre UHI's busiest ever year, with well over 1,700 students enrolled on courses, an increase of more than a quarter over the previous year, and a wide range of other activities carried out.


The Centre has continued to deliver a wide range of training courses to a large number of students during the year. More than 1,700 students enrolled on the 150 courses that were delivered in subjects relevant to Shetland’s maritime industries, including aquaculture, fish catching, marine engineering, navigation and seamanship, as well as shore-based engineering. These courses ranged from one-day safety and other short courses to modern apprenticeships, fishing ticket courses, and the Centre’s three-year merchant navy officer cadet programme. The majority of the students were Shetland residents undertaking training for professional development purposes.

The past year saw NAFC’s largest intake of new young fishermen for at least 20 years, with 17 enrolling on the Seafish 3-week Introduction to Commercial Fishing course, which had to be run twice to accommodate the demand. Class 1 and Class 2 Fishing Skipper’s Ticket classes were also delivered during the year.

NAFC student, Lee Odie, received the 'Trainee Fisherman of the Year' award at the Fishing News Awards ceremony in May, and two former students also received awards there.

The Merchant Navy Officer Cadet Programme, saw 19 new deck and engineer officer cadets embark on their three-year training programme in September, with a further 22 continuing their training from previous years. About half of the new cadets were from outside Shetland, with one from as far away as the Isle of Wight. A number of students also successfully completed the HND course in Nautical Science, required for their Chief Mate’s ticket.

Shore-based engineering training continued to be popular, with 19 students starting on the National Certificate course or Modern Apprenticeships in engineering. And a number of students have continued to work towards their Deck or Engine Room Rating apprenticeships.

Courses for school pupils attracted very large numbers of applicants, with 31 secondary three pupils starting on the Skills for Work programmes in Engineering or Maritime Skills.

The range of training offered by NAFC was increased during the year through an agreement with Highlands and Islands Airports Limited which will allow advanced fire-fighting training to be delivered to seafarers at HIAL’s fire training centre at Sumburgh Airport. This will avoid the need for students to travel south to receive this training.

NAFC’s aquaculture training staff have also had a busy year, with more than 70 students from throughout Scotland currently enrolled on the Centre’s aquaculture apprenticeship programmes. That includes 25 on the new Technical Apprenticeship in Aquaculture Management that was launched in March 2017 for senior aquaculture staff. In September, John McCulloch of Cooke Aquaculture (based in Unst) became the first person in Britain to complete this apprenticeship.

There has also been continued strong demand for short aquaculture training courses, with NAFC staff delivering training throughout Scotland, as well as in Scalloway. The online Fish Welfare and Fish Farm Containment courses have proved popular, with increasing uptake by students outside Shetland, and outside the UK. These online courses have been developed to meet the aquaculture industry’s need to train staff that are unable to attend traditional classroom taught courses.

Marine Science

NAFC’s Marine Science & Technology Department continued to undertake a range of research and consultancy work during the year. The Centre’s research activities tend to be applied in nature, rather than purely academic, with the focus remaining on work that is locally relevant and that can provide economic benefits to Shetland.


Preliminary trials were carried out of an experimental trawl net design incorporating an escape panel to reduce bycatches of cod. The initial results were very promising, and showed that the escape panel let out significant quantities of cod, while retaining other commercially important species, such as haddock.

The Centre’s fishing vessel Atlantia II (LK328) was kept busy during the summer, carrying out a scallop bycatch survey, a velvet crab survey, and an inshore fish stock survey. Initial results from the velvet crab survey, which took on a new format this year, have proven to be very informative, while the inshore fish survey found significant quantities of small haddock around Shetland.

Routine data collection from fish markets, shellfish processors, and on commercial shellfish fishing boats also continued. The shellfish data collected and analysed by NAFC enables it to provide scientific advice to underpin the local management of Shetland’s shellfish fisheries by the Shetland Shellfish Management Organisation (SSMO).

Scientific support was also provided to the SSMO to help it respond to an objection by an environmental NGO to the Marine Stewardship Council’s accreditation of the Shetland scallop fishery. Data held by NAFC was presented at a hearing in London and the objection was subsequently dismissed. Consequently, the Shetland scallop fishery, together with the local brown crab fishery, had their ‘sustainable’ certifications renewed by the MSC for a further five years and remain the only examples of their kind in the world to have been certified by the MSC.


Aquaculture research activity over the last year has been focussed on the ongoing Scottish Shellfish Hatchery Project, which is investigating the technical feasibility and commercial viability of producing hatchery-reared spat (juvenile mussels) for mussel farmers. The project was launched in 2016 to try and address problems caused by the high variability in the natural settlement of wild spat at mussel farm sites. The project has particular local relevance given that more than three-quarters of all UK farmed mussels are produced in Shetland.

Working alongside various agencies and aquaculture production companies in the UK and Australia, NAFC staff have found that the production of mussel spat on a commercial scale is challenging, but have gained a vast amount of experience and knowledge. NAFC has also carried out a number of complementary research projects in collaboration with other Scottish universities to explore specific issues which had been found to affect the success of rearing mussel spat. These have included the influences of diet, nutrition and feeding, and the identification of genetic markers for possible selective breeding of mussel brood stock.

Marine Spatial Planning

The Marine Spatial Planning team have continued their work to maintain and update the Shetland Islands’ Marine Spatial Plan, and have been preparing documentation required for the implementation of the National Marine Plan as part of the Shetland Marine Planning Partnership. This has included the production of a Strategic Environmental Assessment, Habitats Regulation Appraisal and Business Regulation Impact Appraisal. Additional projects have included invasive species monitoring, a maritime heritage asset atlas and various consultancy projects.

Research Students

NAFC has played host over the past year to a growing number of postgraduate research students who are carrying out various research projects in the fields of aquaculture, fisheries, marine spatial planning and the environment. While some of these students are based at NAFC full time, others split their time between the Centre and other academic institutes.


NAFC Director, Willie Shannon said that “This summary of the last year’s activities at the NAFC Marine Centre demonstrates the work of a progressive organisation which has positive relationships with industry and all of its partners. This is a testament to the staff at NAFC who have shown tremendous professionalism to deliver in all of our areas of activity.”

The NAFC Marine Centre will re-open to students on Monday 7th of January.

Further information about NAFC's training courses, research projects, and other activities are available at the NAFC website.

For further information please contact Willie Shannon (willie.shannon@uhi.ac.uk, 01595 772000).