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The development of Shetland's pelagic fishing industry : 1945-2000

Gear, Robert William


Robert William Gear


David J. (David John), 1954 Starkey

Robb Robinson


This thesis is a case study in the transformation of a fishing industry on the North Atlantic fringe between 1945 and 2000. Fishing industries worldwide underwent fundamental and wide-ranging changes during this post-war period. For the fishing industries of the North Atlantic, the 1970s were a time of particularly profound crisis and change. Three interlinked revolutions were at their height: the second industrialisation of fisheries, the territorialisation of the seas and the imposition of multifarious fisheries management measures. These combined to mean that access to marine resources were seriously curtailed. Many fishing industries on the North Atlantic rim suffered and some never recovered. In contrast the Shetland pelagic fishing industry emerged from the crisis period having experienced a particularly dramatic and positive transformation. Part 1 (chapters 2 and 3) detail these changes in the catching and processing sectors. Part 2 analyses the forces which drove this development. It is demonstrated that these changes in the pelagic industry in Shetland were driven by three primary factors. In chapter 4, environmental and sociological drivers are examined together under a holistic framework known as the ‘maritime cultural landscape.’ It is shown that Shetland’s environmental context - as an isolated relatively barren island in the North Atlantic surrounded by fecund seas - has made the exploitation of marine resources both practical and necessary. Further, it describes how the historic socio-culture of the archipelago has been shaped by fishing, and in the post-war period how this was especially manifest in some of the outlying islands. Chapter 5 analyses the impact that market forces (demand) and technological drivers (supply) had on the development of the industry. It shows that consistent demand from Continental Europe has been the industry’s backbone but that increasing globalisation opened up new markets to the local processors. The chapter also argues that new catching methods increased productivity and profit and impelled development in other spheres such as vessel design and processing techniques. Finally chapter 6 discusses the political factors which have underpinned the industry’s development and argues that various forms of subvention and management measures impacted the industry’s development in a particularly positive way. Part 3 puts these developments in Shetland’s pelagic sector in the context of other North Atlantic maritime communities. The peculiarities of the Shetland case are especially highlighted. In summation, the work posits that the Shetland pelagic industry developed dramatically during the 1945-2000 period due to the positive confluence of three primary drivers, and the particular interaction of these drivers can explain the peculiarities of the Shetland example.


Gear, R. W. (2012). The development of Shetland's pelagic fishing industry : 1945-2000. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Jul 25, 2016
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords History
Public URL
Additional Information Department of History, The University of Hull
Award Date Apr 1, 2012


Thesis (2.8 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2012 Gear, Robert William. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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