Scots seafood processors outline vision for the future

Jimmy Buchan, chief executive of the Scottish Seafood Association (SSA), is in an ebullient but pragmatic mood as he discusses the challenges facing the Scottish processing sector as the final post-Brexit trade arrangements are thrashed-out with the EU.

Never has it been so important for Scottish seafood processors to have the proper cohesive representation provided by the SSA because of the range of hurdles involved in the negotiation, most notably in balancing the expectations of fishermen for extra fishing opportunity and the requirements of processors to have unfettered tariff-free trade with the EU.

As such, the SSA recently launched its ‘2020 Vision’ document, highlighting its key priorities in the negotiations.

Speaking to Fish Focus in Peterhead, the UK’s premier fishing port, Jimmy Buchan said: ““Fundamental to the processing sector will be the continuation of tariff-free trade with the EU and no introduction of non-trade barriers. It is essential that fisheries products are prioritised in the forthcoming negotiations.

 “In 2016, the UK exported £1,640 million worth of seafood, of which 71% went to EU countries. It should also be remembered that many fish processing businesses in Europe depend upon supplies of Scottish caught seafood, with places such as Boulogne in France employing around 5,000 people in their seafood sector.

“So, it is very much a two-way process, and we are keen to forge links with EU seafood fish processing associations to help ensure that we can protect and develop this important trade for both sides.

“Of course, Brexit will also bring opportunities for the Scottish seafood sector to export on a more global scale if the right trade agreements are reached with other countries. We also believe there are big opportunities in developing domestic sales to the UK’s vast market of 65 million people.

“The key is identifying all the avenues, and then developing a strategy that maximises the potential market for a quality seafood resource that is in demand both at home and abroad.”

The next few months is all about being prepared for all eventualities, and if cross-channel supply routes suddenly become disrupted, identifying alternative ways of ensuring Scottish seafood reaches EU markets, for example through air-freight or via other ferry routes.

Another area of major concern is Environmental Health Certificates (EHOs) and whether UK seafood exporters to the EU would need to issue them with each consignment – a scenario that would be both costly and time-consuming.

There are other priorities, too, for the SSA – most notably with regards to ensuring there is an adequate labour pool for Scottish processors.

Buchan is adamant that the UK Government’s proposed points-based framework for immigration must take into account the seafood processing sector’s employment needs.

“We are dependent upon migrant workers from other EEA countries, which make up 48% of the workforce as a whole and 70% in the North East of Scotland, so it is vital that our members are able to gain continued access to this labour pool.”

The SSA is also calling for a fit-for-purpose replacement for the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), which will expire at the end of the transition period in December this year.

 “We believe strongly that the principles and priorities of the new funding regime must not be hamstrung by damaging limitations such as state aid, so that access to funding for our members is as open as possible to allow continued innovation and development across the sector.”

On the wider implications of Brexit, Buchan sees it as an opportunity for both the Scottish and UK Governments, along with the seafood processors, to do things better, including developing new and more enhanced frameworks, which make Scotland a model for other nations to aspire to when it comes to quality and innovation.

“As part of this, we should be looking at other successful fishing nations – particularly Iceland and Norway – and see how they are developing and marketing their seafood sector, identifying areas worth replicating or improving upon.”

He adds: “The SSA is fully committed to driving forward the highest standards when it comes to processes within the sector, with training and certification that give consumers confidence in the quality of our produce.

“The seafood industry is a major contributor to the Scottish economy and our sector has an important role to play in ensuring that we achieve the Scotland Food & Drink Partnership’s ambition for 2030 to increase the industry’s value to £30 billion.”