Whilst the early Orkney villagers were farmers, raising cattle and sheep and growing barley, they also supplemented their diet with foods such as venison, meat and eggs from seabirds like the Great Auk. Additionally, they harvested fish and shellfish in great quantities which is thought to have been kept fresh in custom-built tanks inside the houses such as those at Skara Brae.
Recent excavations in Westray suggest that the Norse were amongst the first to promote fishing on a commercial scale. They named the headlands, inlets, rocks and skerries – many of which we still use today such as “Hamnavoe” and “Stromness”.
Kirkwall, geographically centre to Orkney, was the base of commercial interest, trading with Scandinavian and North European ports; while Stromness remained a backwater.
Stromness by William Daniell
On his voyage round Orkney, in late summer 1818, William Daniell sailed to Stromness, then a burgeoning town of some 2000 inhabitants. The architecture of the place struck as haphazard, the narrow streets dirty. However, the thrift and industry he found there impressed him greatly. (the vessel at anchor could be the Harmony I.)
Orkney Museum Collection
The balance of trade in Orkney began to change as early as the 16th century, as Europeans pioneered new markets and colonies in America, Africa and the Far East.
Merchants sailing across the Atlantic discovered Hamnavoe as a safe port of call where they could find shelter and gather fresh provisions and water. By the end of the 16th century, an inn had been established in Hamnavoe.
Painting of Harmony I, the Arctic whaler from Hull which called at Stromness for more than 80 years. Cuttie Wilson of Graemsay served on her during her last passage.
Hull Museum Collection
Commercial lobster fishing took off as live lobsters were exported to London, reaching 100,000-200,000 by the turn of the century.
338 vessels were recorded in Stromness from: Netherlands, Denmark, Prussia, Danzig and America.
A typical sailing yole being tarred and prepared for better weather and longer daylight.
John Budge and John Anderson, 1910.
Photo: George Ellison
Few opportunities existed for fishermen between the wars, although fish were plentiful.
Methods of fishing and marketing the catch were primitive and state aid was non-existent, so fishermen worked hard to support their family and homes.
Orkney Fishermen’s Society Ltd. was formed as a co-operative, to market locally caught lobsters as fishermen were unhappy with prices offered in Kirkwall.
Fishermen Angus Brown, Robert Greig and George Linklater of Graemsay became the first shareholders, each investing £1 (worth approximately £26.30 today). Share capital today is now £350k, and the company’s net worth is £3M – harvesting approximately 25% of Scotland’s Brown Crab catch.
Fishermen cooked and shelled lobsters, freezing the meat for sale – though it was soon discovered there was not much demand for frozen lobster meat. As crab does not keep or travel well, they could instead be cooked, processed and frozen for resale.
Crab fishing was first trialled in Orkney.
OFS began to process crab.
The sea school in Stromness was started up.
OFS moved to new factory in Garson Industrial Estate, meeting new legal requirements and creating jobs as the workforce doubled from 8 to 16.
OFS’s first supermarket products are developed through our links with Kirkcudbright based pate manufacturer Castle MacLellan in 1996. They are still an important customer.
OFS develops its first products for M&S
OFS receives BRC accreditation
OFS becomes accredited to multiple retailers. To this day, OFS are one of the few crab processing facilities in Europe with this attribute.
Orkney became the first local authority area in the UK to appoint a full-time shellfish sustainability officer with the launch of Orkney Sustainable Fisheries Ltd, a not-for-profit local company set-up and run by fishermen to research shellfish stocks and advise on appropriate management measures. OSF is recognised by Marine Scotland as the regional Inshore Fisheries Group for the area.
OFS receives “Partnership for Success Award” and “Excellence Award” at the Highlands & Islands Food & Drink Awards
OFS receives an award for “Success Through Working in Partnership” at the Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards
OFS heavily supports a 4 year Fisheries Improvement Project driven by Orkney Sustainable Fisheries, working alongside OIC, M&S and WWF.
Orkney Fishermen’s Society Ltd. won the prestigious “Grichan Partnership Sustainable Business Award” at the 2016 Lloyds Bank National Business Awards Gala, recognising the effectiveness as a sustainable approach and how it has improved commercial performance, competitiveness, customer perception, staff engagement, and prospects for continued financial strength.
OFS employee count rises to over 100.