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About Shetland


In this part of the website, we look at how Shetland earns a living in the world. Until perhaps forty years ago, the islands’ economic history was something of a rollercoaster. Occasional periods of particularly good fishing led to a series of relatively short-lived ‘booms’, separated by spells in which life was pretty difficult for many islanders. Emigration was a feature of island life for decades.

Things have changed for the better. The Shetland economy began to recover during the late 1960s and early 1970s thanks partly to local entrepreneurship in fisheries, knitwear, agriculture and tourism and partly to the assistance available from the newly-established Highlands and Islands Development Board. Indeed, it was because the islands were in a better economic position that the Council of the day was able to claim that the oil industry needed Shetland more than vice versa. The deal that was struck reflected that. From the mid-1970s to the present day, the economy has been more prosperous than ever before, with unemployment typically no higher than 2.5%.

That’s not to suggest that no problems remain. Our biggest sector, fisheries, remains unpredictable, largely thanks to national and international pressures; the same is true of agriculture and our knitwear industry has had to re-invent itself. Our island location creates logistical challenges but they’re being overcome.

In these pages, we look at each of our main economic sectors in a little more detail.

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