Rough waters for UK shellfish group

Published on
October 23, 2011

The Shellfish Association of Great Britain (SAGB) is in dire financial straits and urgently needs more support if it is to remain in business.

“We need our members to pay more for the representation they get from us, and we desperately need more members,” said David Jarrad, the group’s newly appointed director. “All our income presently comes from subscriptions and last year we received about GBP 26,000 (USD 41,480). This covers only 19 percent of our basic costs.”

The SAGB has some 300 members, and they come from all segments of the shellfish industry. The association occupies offices in Fishmongers’ Hall, one of the old Livery halls in London, and to date the Fishmongers’ Co. has been making up any shortfall in the SAGB budget.

However, this situation is changing, and the company now wants 50 percent of the money it provides to be used for wider benefit work, such as disposing of the myth that consumption of shrimp/prawns increases cholesterol, rather than be spent on core costs.

Jarrad explained that the financial support the Fishmongers’ Co. pays to the SAGB is very likely to reduce incrementally each year from now on. “They want us to become completely self sufficient,” he said.

Unfortunately, the shellfish industry has become used to the Fishmongers’ Co. picking up the tab for the SAGB and the services it provides. And it is going to be difficult to explain to members that they are now going to have to pay more if they want them to continue.

Acting as an intermediary with government departments and agencies, the SAGB has secured notable successes for the industry. It has persuaded the government to ban the use of TBT, an antifoulant used on the bottom of boats, which poisoned shellfish habitats.

More recently, it has persuaded the fisheries ministry to look again at legislation that has classed all shellfish harvesters, including farmers, as Gang-masters who would have to be registered and pay an annual charge on top of the initial fee. “We have saved the industry about GBP 0.5 million (USD 0.8 million) by persuading the government to look again at the legislation,” said Jarrad. 

The SAGB has recently restructured its membership categories “to better reflect our diverse range of members and to encourage new members to join.” New categories include wholesalers and restaurateurs. “Even Joe Public is now able to join as ‘seashore’ members,” he said.

Membership is not restricted to UK companies. “We currently have members in the USA, Scandinavia and Germany,” said Jarrad. “We export all around the world, so we are keen to attract new overseas members who import our shellfish.”

Jarrad is trying to correct some anomalies in the membership structure where individual staff are members of the SAGB rather than the company itself. “It is ridiculous when large seafood companies or supermarket groups are paying a subscription of just GBD 75 (USD 120),” he said. “The UK shellfish industry is worth approximately GBP 1 billion (USD 1.6 billion), yet collectively pays only GBP 26,000 for our services. We punch well above our weight. The work we do for our money is phenomenal.”

One would expect Jarrad to sing the SAGB’s praises. However, members replying to a recent questionnaire unequivocally stated that the SAGB does a valuable job and were supportive of its work.

Whether they will pay more for it remains to be seen. However, as Jarrad pointed out, there is no other umbrella organization for shellfish in the UK, so companies and individual shellfish growers would have to act on their own if the SAGB were allowed to go out of business.

“The bottom line is that there is a desperate need for industry representation with the government and various official organisations such as the Food Standards Agency on issues such as disease, water pollution, stock management, etc.,” he said. “However, it is often very difficult to demonstrate the value of all the work that we do as we regularly head off problems before they become critical.”

The SAGB has been working for the British shellfish industry for 108 years and Jarrad is optimistic that it will continue to do so. “I’m not going to let the SAGB go down in my tenure,” insisted Jarrad.

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