Often the lunch takes up the theme of the talk. On several occasions we’ve featured a group of fisheries researchers, outlining projects under way to improve the sustainability of Orkney’s fishing sector. There have been reports of work on crab, brown crab, and lobsters. They’ve been followed by a mouthwatering lunch of Orkney seafood provided by Orkney Fishermen’s Society.
Orkney’s shallow rocky waters, regularly washed by strong nutrient-bearing tides provide rich habitat for crabs and lobsters. Over 100 registered and licenced boats set out creels to trap them, returning undersized specimens alive to the sea to grow and breed.
The story of Orkney’s crab factories, and the energy and vision that has been put into them, would fill a book, and one indeed – A Creek to a Haven – was produced to mark the 50th anniversary of the OFS in 1953.
“Our crab factories in Westray and Stromness are something to be proud of,” said the authors, Capt. R.L. Sutherland and Stewart Crichton, who themselves have played a huge part in the great developments. “No other fishing community in the UK has been able to sustain such processing facilities, largely still owned and controlled by fishermen.”
Stewart Crichton took over the management of the Stromness-based co-operative in 1993 when it was at a low ebb, and led the way with energy and vision into a new purpose-built factory and steady growth. It’s today one of the largest crab processors in the UK, also supplying live brown and velvet crabs and lobster across the world.
The OFS was the first crab processor to hold Marine Stewardship Council certification for brown crab, and is a key supporter of Orkney Sustainable Fisheries.
Backed by fishermen and processors across Orkney, Orkney Sustainable Fisheries Ltd employs 2 full-time marine scientists to collect data on stocks and provide advice for local fisheries management.
They’ve carried out local stock assessment, and they’ve also looked at the habitats of juvenile lobsters and the movement of juvenile scallops, and the size at which local brown crabs reach sexual maturity – thereby providing a good way of monitoring catches to make sure that Orkney brown crabs can have a least 3 spawning seasons before capture and removal from the fishery.