April highlights:

Gear Trials, Engineering courses, the Hanseatic League, Lemon Sole and information about Earth Day and the 2020 Voar Redd Up!

Book of the Month

Fish, Coast and Communities: A History of Norway by Nils Kolle, Alf Ragnar Nielssen, Atle Døssland and Pål Christensen

950e251a531595cf6c789739c58ed58cNorway is often referred to as a maritime nation, which is not unexpected given its unique location and long coastline. But what does this mean, beyond these obvious characteristics?

“Fish, Coast and Communities – A History of Norway” offers an in-depth exploration of how the people of Norway have relied on the sea for thousands of years to put food on the table, to build prosperity, and to shape their communities.

This book tells the tale of a society built on marine resources. Norwegians have used the sea in a wide variety of ways over time, depending on factors such as climate, resources, technology, politics and markets. These developments are examined from the time the first settlers found their livelihood along the Norwegian coast, through a thousand years of commercial fishery in Norway.

The story continues up to the present day, when fisheries and fish farming still ensure that Norway is one of the largest seafood exporters in the world.

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Kid’s Book of the Month

How Deep is the Sea? by Anna Milbourne and Serena Riglietti


This is a magical picture book following one of Pipkin’s adventures. His question for this book is: – “How deep is the sea?”.

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Project of the Month

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Gear Trials


In demersal fisheries (fish who live close to the seabed), unwanted sizes and species of fish are often caught with the target species. It is a particular problem in some significant Scottish fisheries:

Scottish mixed whitefish fishery

  • Value of mixed whitefish fishery increased in 2018 to £201M (approx 1/3 of Scotland’s total landings value)¹
  • Cod is Scotland’s most valuable demersal species (£43.5M in 2018,
    followed by haddock £42.6M and monkfish £38.7M)¹

Scottish nephrops trawl (prawns)fishery

  • Nephrops are Scotland’s most valuable shellfish (£62.6M in 2018)¹
  • Bycatch of small round fish are a problem due to the relatively small mesh sizes in nets

Both fisheries are subject to quotas and landings obligations.

The project aimed to look at gear modifications to improve selectivity. The initial thoughts considered were:

  • Increasing the mesh sizes, mesh orientation, twine thickness…
  • Changing ground gear (chains/rubber hoppers/bobbins….)
  • Adjustment to headline height or coverless gears
  • Separator panels
  • Sorting grids and escape windows


The Gear Innovation and Technology Advisory Group (GITAG) was formed in 2015 by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation’s subsidiary company SFF Services using funding from Scottish Government and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. GITAG invited the
fishing industry to submit ideas on how to improve catch selectivity. They also coordinate data collection and scientific analysis².

¹ Marine Scotland (2019). Scottish Sea Fisheries Statistics 2018. Scottish Government report.

² www.sff.co.uk/gitag/


The idea of the Atlantia II Trial was to use the specific behavioural habits of cod in the trawl gear.

Cod are relatively powerful swimmers and have a tendency to swim downwards compared to other demersal fish (haddock, whiting, etc.)

The initial sea trials were done in 2018 with the Atlantia II (LK 502). An alternate haul method was used which means to compare catches from alternate trawls using two different cod ends (the narrow end of a trawl net). The fishing grounds chosen were located around Shetland and short tows were done lasting on average less than 2 hours.
In 2019 further trials were done with longer tows, more than 4 hours similar to local commercial fishing practices. Underwater cameras were also attached to the gear to assess the fishes behaviour and how the gear worked.

The early results from the initial trials in 2018 were promising. There was over 80% reduction in the cod catch rate but no significant difference in all the other species caught. Cod getting caught in the net was also found to decrease the bigger the fish was.


The initial sea trial (2018) results:

  • Good ground contact and overall net geometry
  • Cod most likely to find escape panel
  • Cod most likely to escape via escape panel
  • Escapes observed throughout tow and during hauling

Some problems which occurred during 2019 trial:

  • Access to escape panel found to be vulnerable to blockages at the middle panel
  • Marine debris or dogfish/skate entanglement were the most common causes for blocking the panel
  • The escape rate increases during hauling the nets which means the overall effect of the panel is less for the longer tows
  • Some minor losses of haddock, whiting, and plaice were observed


  • It is up to industry, scientists and policymakers to continue working as the GITAG funding finished in December 2019
  • Further concepts and refinements to the gear are in development with analysis of results ongoing
  • Additional collaboration and partnerships are essential to explore other applications and solutions

If you are interested in reading more about the trials head to the NAFC Marine Centre UHI website for more information.

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Course of the Month

Image Credit: NAFC Marine Centre UHI

Engineering Courses

NAFC Marine Centre UHI run a number of engineering courses from National Certificate level up. You can find summaries below or head to the NAFC Marine Centre UHI website.

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Fish of the Month


Lemon Sole colour CMYK

Microstomus kitt

Lemon sole is a flatfish which grows to around 30 cm in length. It lies on its left side and has an oval shaped body with a small head and mouth1. The upper side is a mottled reddish brown and the underside is white. Lemon sole live on gravelly seabeds at depths of between 20-200 metres2.

Lemon Sole has mild sweet flavour and is quite delicate. It can be baked, poached, steamed or grilled and pairs very well with creamy white wine sauces. It is high in protein, vitamin B12 and selenium3.

Lemon sole eat crustaceans, brittle stars and bivalves. They mature at between 3-6 years old. Their eggs hatch in the open sea after a week and larvae remain in open water until they reach 15-20mm in length. The larvae hatch looking like round fish. As they mature, their eyes move to one side as they become a flat fish. When they change into their adult form, they move to the seabed in relatively deep water4.


4Sea Fish by Bent J. Muus & Jørgen G. Nielsen 1999

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Heritage Topic of the Month

Pier House, Symbister Whalsay © Charlotte Slater


The Hanseatic League, also known as the Hansa, was an organisation set up by towns and merchant communities of Northern Germany to protect their mutual interests in trading. Western Germany was able to dominate the Baltic regions trade and German merchants help establish several towns such as Riga in Latvia, Danzig which is now called Gdańsk in Poland and Dorpat known as Tartu in Estonia1. In Eastern Germany, merchants in Rhineland, especially Cologne dominated trade in the low countries and across to England. When Henry the Lion seized the town of Lübeck in 11582, the league began to expand east and north, dominating trade around the North Atlantic for hundreds of years, especially from the 14th – 17th centuries. At its height, the league consisted of over 200 cities across Northern Europe3.

The reasons behind the Hanseatic League being set up were numerous. Firstly, was protection of their merchants. Piracy was a real threat while travelling at sea during the middle ages and having the league was a form of protection. The league also aided safer navigation with the building of lighthouses and trained pilots reducing the risk of shipwreck. Secondly, working together meant that their trading posts further afield were more secure and finally, the league could be used to establish a monopoly in the towns where it was firmly established4.

1, 2 & 4 http://www.britannica.com/topic/Hanseatic-League
3 http://www.hanse.org/en/hanse-historic/the-history-of-the-hanseatic-league


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Whalsay has strong links to the Hanseatic League with records from 1557 mentioning the construction of a German bød in Whalsay1. There is also evidence on older maps that the road to the Pier House was at one time called Bremenstrasse (Bremen Street)2.  Today there is a museum dedicated to the Hanseatic heritage of Shetland based in Symbister.

The Pier House in Symbister is often called a Hanseatic Bød and said to date from the 16th century. However, the Pier House was actually constructed for Robert Bruce the Laird of Symbister in the mid-18th century to use as a trading warehouse1. It sits at the end of a stone jetty with a small stone lined harbour to the right. It is two stories with a fire place on the first floor probably meaning it was used as living quarters. The Pier House and stone harbour are Category B listed and were restored by Richard Gibson in 19843. It now houses information about the Hanseatic League and general information about Whalsay.

Harbour View is a house which sits just behind Pier House. It is thought that the house was used as a booth by merchants from Bremen at one time. There is also thought to be another early storehouse or booth to the south which has been converted to modern day use2.

1 Shetland Vernacular Buildings 1600-1900 by Ian Tait [2012]
2 Shetland (Exploring Scotland’s Heritage) by Anna Ritchie (RCHMS) [1997]
3 www.portal.historicenvironment.scot/designation/LB18593


Segebad Detken was a Bremen merchant who came to Shetland to trade for over 50 years. He is first found in records around 1557 as a skipper working from the harbours of Burravoe in Yell, and Uyeasound and Baltasound in Unst.

Detken was robbed by pirates in 1566, with his ship and booth being damaged. He was be no means the only merchant targeted with Humierus Meager, Herman Schroeder, John Beling, Theodore Fogen, Johan Michel and Luderus Brummer also being attacked by bands of pirates that year who said they worked for Patrick Bellenden, a prominent man from Orkney.

In 1573, Detken died in Unst, Shetland and he was buried at Lund. His grave can be found in the ruined chapel at Lund and the inscription is written in Low German:


Roughly translated, it says: “Here lies the honourable Segebad Detken, citizen and merchant from Bremen, who has traded in this country for 52 years, and died [in the year 1573], the 20th of August. God have mercy on his soul.”

There is also another German merchant’s grave at Lund, Unst for a Hinrick Segelcken also from Bremen who died in 1585.

After Detken’s death, his relatives continued to trade in the isles and there are records of his son Herman and his grandson Magnus still trading in the north isles during the 17th century.

Further Information:
The Stewart Earls of Orkney by Peter Anderson [2012]

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Tabu Word of the Month


Tabu words were words used at sea while at da haaf fishing instead of using the “land” words. For example an otter would have been called a dratsi. The practice arose from superstitions that go back through the centuries and it was thought using tabu words would help to calm the sea gods amongst other things.

Most of the words that have been collected, are either nouns relating to animals and things left ashore or activities done whilst fishing and indeed the fish themselves. Nearly all of the known tabu words are of Old Norse origin.

Occasionally there are several words for the same animal. Sometimes this was related to how the speaker was describing the animal and sometimes it was a regional difference with fishermen from different areas using different words for the same thing.

For Further Information:
Shetland Words: A dictionary of the Shetland dialect

emek noun.


[Old Norse. eimr: steam; poetry also fire]

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Activity of the Month

This month’s activity is the Great Skate Egg Hunt created by the Shark Trust.

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Help find and record shark and skate eggcases with this great citizen science project!

Some sharks and all true skates reproduce by laying eggs which are surrounded by a leathery pouch to protect the embryo. Once the eggcases (also known as mermaid’s purses) are empty, they often wash up on the beach. Check out the Shark Trust’s video!

The Great Eggcase Hunt began in 2003 and is run by the Shark Trust. It quickly grew and is now global, with the aim to get as many people as possible out hunting for eggcases and recording their finds. Eggcases can be found year round so make sure and keep your eyes peeled next time you are at the beach!


  1. If you can download the Eggcase Hunt app available for both apple and android devices, which has step by step instructions on how to complete a record and can use your phones GPS to record your exact location.
  2. Head to the beach and get hunting! The strandline is a good place to start looking.
  3. Don’t worry if you can’t download the app, you can still submit your records online Remember you will need to know the beach location and take a photo of your eggcase for the record to be verified.


  • You can usually find eggcases amongst the seaweed that makes up the strandline. They blend in really well which means they can be difficult to spot at first, so keep your eyes peeled.
  • When eggcases dry out they’re very light and can get blown to the back of the beach. They also get trapped in grasses on sand dunes. So these are good locations to search.
  • Eggcases will wash up throughout the year. They may have freshly hatched, or been on the seabed for some time before being dislodged.
  • After stormy weather has passed is prime eggcase hunting time. Lots of seaweed and debris will have been washed up on the beach – this is great to search in.
  • Check to make sure it’s definitely an empty eggcase and nothing is inside.
  • If a live embryo is inside, pop the eggcase back in the sea and try to weigh it down so it doesn’t wash ashore again.
  • Empty eggcases have no secondary purpose as some shells do for hermit crabs. They also don’t break down to form sand.


Here are a few methods you can use to conduct your hunt…

THE CHANCE FIND – you may be out walking your dog on your local beach, or on holiday with your family, when you discover an eggcase. What a stroke of luck! Take a photo and record your find.

SIMPLE SCIENCE – set out on a timed walk, e.g. walk along the strandline for 20 minutes and see how many eggcases you can find in that time.

BEACH SURVEY – walk the entire length of the beach, or between two landmarks if it’s a long beach! Look at the upper strandline when walking in one direction then return along the lower strandline, recording as you go.


Once at home, we recommend preparing your eggcase(s) by doing a bit of bucket science. Rehydrating eggcases makes them much easier to identify. You’ll also see how much they expand to their true size, and how tough they are to protect the developing embryo!

  • Fill a container with fresh water – you can use anything from a freezer bag to a bucket.
  • Put the eggcase in the water – if possible try to remove all the air so it sinks.
  • Leave to soak for 1-2 hours – the longer it’s been out of water, the longer it’ll need to fully rehydrate. Larger eggcases will need to soak for around 24 hours before they return to their original shape.
  • Remove the eggcase from the water.
  • Get cracking with identifying your find!

Once you’ve identified and photographed your eggcase you can dry them out in a well-ventilated spot. As long as they’re empty, they shouldn’t smell.

There are lots of great resources on the Shark Trust website to help you identify your eggcases. If you can’t get to a beach currently, you can also print off the Shark Trust’s Indoor Easter Eggcase Hunt.

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What’s on this Month

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Earth Day began in 1970 and was a unified response to the environment crisis. Beginning in America, the first Earth Day is credited with launching the modern environmental movement. It is now a global event and this year will be held on the 22nd of April.

This year’s theme is Climate Action.

There are lots of things you can do to take part in Earth Day. Here are just a few ideas to get you started!

  • Join a beach clean, it is Voar Redd Up this month too!
  • Try and use as little single use plastic as you can. Check out the Zero Waste Shop in Lerwick for great alternatives.
  • Check your food miles! There are lots of great local products made/reared/grown here in Shetland. From milk, butter, bread and eggs to vegetables, lamb, beef, pork and fish.
  • Join in with the Earth Challenge 2020. Head over to www.earthchallenge2020.earthday.org to find out more.
  • Find ways to reduce your energy use. Walk/use public transport instead of taking the car, remember to switch lights and appliances off when you are not using them, turn your thermostat down by 1 degree.


The Voar Redd Up is the most successful community litter pick in the whole of the UK. Over a fifth of Shetland’s population volunteer each year. This year marks the 33rd Voar Redd Up but due to the Coronavirus pandemic it has been postponed, hopefully taking place in the Autumn.

However, the Shetland Amenity Trust are still encouraging folk to pick up litter while out for their daily exercise either by themselves or with members of their household. ‘Take 3 for the Sea‘ is a worldwide campaign and Orkney have a similar initiative called ‘Pick Up 3‘ encouraging folk to pick up 3 pieces of litter.

The Amenity Trust are keen for folk to share any interesting finds and results with them through the Dunna Chuck Bruck social media channels: Facebook and Instagram.


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