Brexit worries for salmon exports
Lorry queues in Kent after Brexit could have “serious implications” for the Scottish salmon farming sector.
Tavish Scott, the new chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO), said the carrier DFDS had done a “great job” of contingency planning but that worries remained: “We export hugely to France and the rest of the EU. It’s crucial that trade is seamless so a lorry park in Kent or delays on the other side of the Channel would have serious implications. Norway would be very happy to supply to the marketplace if Scotland can’t.
“Our product has to go at the right time because it’s perishable, so we need to get as much as possible out of the UK Government but we don’t know if there will be a deal or not so we don’t know how it will operate.
“So there’s big concern from farms and the workforce but more than that, it’s the longer term: what does this mean for trade and the ability to market this product to Europe and further afield?”
He was speaking at a Holyrood fringe event at the SNP conference, sponsored by the SSPO and also addressed by Fergus Ewing, cabinet secretary for the rural economy and connectivity.
Ewing said a no-deal Brexit would be “catastrophic” but was worried that even if there were a deal that non-tariff barriers could be catastrophic.
He also highlighted the implications of losing freedom of movement for the aquaculture sector. “In marine science, they are probably as international a cohort as you could meet.”
Commenting on the UK Government’s promises on excluding EU fishermen from British waters, he said: “I think those who said Johnny Foreigner is going to be excluded from our waters, it was always a foolish promise and at the end of this week we will see how foolish it was.”
The Scottish Government is seeking £62m from the UK Government as replacement funding for the cash it would have received from the EU’s European and Maritime Fisheries Fund. Ewing said: “There is talk of having a UK Shared Prosperity Fund but all we know is what it is going to be called.”
Scottish salmon is the UK’s biggest food export and was described by Ewing as “extremely important” to the economy.
He said: “I am hard pressed to think of any sector that has invested more [in recent years]. In aquaculture we have seen some of the biggest investment sustaining jobs in rural areas.”
He described salmon-farming as “the industry of the periphery, of the edge,” highlighting the role it plays in remote and rural communities in Shetland, the Hebrides and Skye, among other places, particularly in giving job chances to young people. He added: “These are places that are often associated with lack of opportunity.”
Scott added that the average salary in the sector was £37,000 and that it was important in the central belt of Scotland as well as in rural areas, highlighting the employment provided by the salmon distribution centre in Larkhall.
However, the sector has faced persistent controversy in recent years over issues such as fish mortality and sea lice. In 2018, the rural economy and connectivity committee of the Scottish Parliament published a raft of recommendations and requirements for salmon farming.
Scott said that it had done work to address those issues since, the latest phase of which is publication of its Sustainability Charter, aimed at making the sector net zero by 2045. As for criticism of salmon farming, he drew a distinction between what he called “proper discussion” of the issues and the criticisms of those who were “implacably opposed to our sector, adding: “We must confront the arguments where they lack fact.”
Ewing said it was important to listen to “informed criticism”. Listing Scottish Government action, he said the Scottish Government was tightening up regulation about sea lice, tightening up regulation about wrasse, banning the shooting of seals as from February 1 and carrying out research on the impact of acoustic deterrents.
He noted that Norway had eight times the tonnage of salmon as Scotland wanted to quadruple it. “In Norway they are talking about fish as the new oil.
“We want to be at the sharp end of innovation but also the high end of environmental standards.”