Focus on Ports: Scrabster

18th July 2016

Situated on the north east coast of Scotland on Thurso Bay near Caithness, Scrabster was the 4th largest port across the UK in 2014 with annual landing figures of 16.2 hundred thousand tonnes. The port has held this position over the last decade with current figures showing an increase of 27.56% (2004 v 2014).

Its position as the most northerly part of mainland UK makes Scrabster an ideal location for vessels fishing the grounds to the north and west of Scotland.


Taking its name from the Old Norse, Skaraboldstadr meaning homestead on the edge, Scrabster as a settlement dates back many thousands of years to prehistoric times. The surrounding area is abundant in Iron Age forts and Brochs (tall circular towers used as vantage points). Though a part of the early Pictish Kingdoms the small town was most likely more strategically inhabited by the Vikings during the late 8th Century. For three hundred years the area of Thurso, Caithness and Scrabster was governed by Norse kings until the 13th century when the Norwegian influence was replaced by the Scottish rule of William the Lion.

The medieval ruins of Scrabster Castle date from around this period though there is some conjecture that a Broch existed on the site beforehand owing to the mention of a borg at Skarabolstad in an Icelandic saga written in 1196 plus the evidence of Iron Age pottery found in the ruins. The castle stood for just a few hundred years before being declared as ‘wholly ruinous’ in 1726.

The harbour was built in 1841 as a means of providing a deep-water dock to service imports and exports from the Northern Isles as well as Scandinavia and the Faroe Islands. The small settlement was granted commercial rights to operate a ferry service as well as a fishing port and, by 1856, a link from Stromness to Scrabster was established. To cement the success of the first decade of operations a lighthouse was built at Holborn Head in 1862

Caithness, rich in natural resources such as Salmon, was a source of huge income for Scottish landowners like the Sinclairs who at one point owned more land than the King of Scotland and it was from Scrabster that the majority of their harvest was exported.

In the 1990’s Scrabster Harbour was expanded significantly to accommodate the growing fishing industry and included a new fish market as well as modern landing facilities and fish dock. The port continues to expand its services with new projects being developed but offers a 2000 box capacity chilled fish market with sorting and distribution facilities conveniently situated on site.

Ferry operations have continued to expand and, in 2003, a new quay (The Queen Elizabeth Quay) was built to service larger vessels.

Current Economy

Scrabster Harbour has been a top fishing port in the UK for over twenty years and predominantly lands shellfish such as lobsters, prawns, scallops and brown crab as well as whitefish. At the current time, around 1000 vessels use the port each year and bring in an annual haul of fish worth around £20 million.

Port development

A trust port since 1841, all profits from the operations of the development are reinvested into the port. In 2008 the Trust published plans for a programme of redevelopment which has so far seen a total of £19.9 million of investment. Whilst the majority of the work is to consolidate its position in the fishing industry the port is also working to become a player in the oil and gas sector. The development plans are laid out in three stages, namely:

Phase 1 – Development of the 32 acre Enterprise Area at Scrabster Mains. Phase 2 – Redevelopment of the St Ola Pier to create modern deep-water harbour infrastructure. Phase 3 – Seabed reclamation works to create laydown/industrial space to the south of the harbour.


The harbour is well serviced by a number of local companies offering everything from chandlery to ice, oil spill response units to haulage and distribution. There are shower and laundry facilities on site as well as fueling and servicing. The fish market (Fish Basin) offers a 2000 box capacity that is fully refrigerated and offers all of the modern conveniences. The markets start at 9.30amd and skippers are requested t ensure that their fish is landed and ready for sale by this time. is pleased to work with a number of harbours across the UK and internationally and provides a one-stop market for all your fishing boat needs from private advertisers to commercial companies the site can offer a full range of equipment, services and vessels.

Additional pictures for this article Kindly supplied by Ian Watt and Holborn Fishing Co Ltd Scrabster

new vivier lorry for Holborn Fishing Co Ltd

The Marigold fishing off Scrabster

The Marigold

Sparkling line coming into Scrabster to land

sparkling line entering Scrabster. And the Cruise liner Hamanvoe berthed alongside the Orkney ferry

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