New funds available to COVID-hit Scottish aquaculture firms; Salmon farmer repays furlough money

Scottish aquaculture businesses affected by the collapse of international markets as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic can apply to have the costs of maintaining unsold stock through a new GBP 1.25 million (USD 1.6 million, EUR 1.4 million) fund.

The scheme, which is being funded by the E.U. European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), will support businesses by compensating for the costs of transport, processing, and cold storage for salmon, trout, and shellfish until the end of 2020.

“This has been a challenging time for the aquaculture sector with businesses unable to bring products to market but continuing to face high operational costs,” Scotland’s Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said. “This new funding, which will provide financial support for cold storing salmon, trout and shellfish, will mean businesses will be able to cover some of the additional costs they have faced trying to preserve stock during the global COVID-19 pandemic."

Acknowledging that farmed salmon is Scotland’s “most-important food product and valuable food export,” Ewing said that Scottish government wanted to support the sector through these challenging times.

Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) Chief Executive Julie Hesketh-Laird added that fish farmers have worked tirelessly through the lockdown period to keep farms running, to protect the health and welfare of their workers and salmon, and to maintain supplies to customers.

“There has been innovation by farmers in finding new markets because of the drop in export demand due to COVID-19 restrictions. But there is still a need for some of them for temporary storage, until overseas markets start to normalize again. We are delighted that the Scottish government has managed to access European funds to help with this process," she said.

Scottish Shellfish Marketing Group Managing Director Stephen Cameron said the availability of the funding would keep farms and factories busy and allow flexibility in how stocks and workforces are managed.

Meanwhile, Scottish Sea Farms (SSF) will repay all the money received from the U.K. government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

With markets reopening and signs of the business performance beginning to bounce back, the company said that it will pay back the furlough scheme funding, which had provided it with vital support at the start of the coronavirus restrictions. It also won’t be making any further claims.

“Both the U.K. and Scottish governments were quick to identify food producers as being key to the nation’s resilience during the COVID-19 crisis, so we have worked hard to put in place the protective measures necessary to enable us to operate safely and at near full capacity to help keep supplies of fresh farmed salmon flowing,” SSF’s Managing Director Jim Gallagher said. “However for a small percentage of our staff, COVID-19 brought the need to shield, whether for their own protection or that of their loved ones. For others, it has required them to provide full-time care to their children who would otherwise be at nursery or school, making working impossible and furloughing the most practical option."

Since March 2020, the company has furloughed 36 full-time and part-time staff, equating to 8 percent of its workforce under the Job Retention Scheme, amounting to support in the region of GBP 106,000 (USD 131,625, EUR 117,436) through the end of June.

The 36 furloughed staff have received 100 percent of their basic pay, 80 percent of which was provided by the Job Retention Scheme and the remaining 20 percent by SSF.

“It was hugely important to us that these employees weren’t disadvantaged due to personal circumstances. The Job Retention Scheme has helped ensure they could take the time needed to care for themselves and their families,” Gallagher said. “Trading has been exceptionally tough these last few months. On the one hand, panic-buying led to an initial bounce in domestic sales. On the other, our export markets all but closed resulting in reduced sales, increased freight and operating costs, and significantly reduced profits.” 

Gallagher said markets are making salmon purchases again, buoying the company.

“Now, we’re starting to see a nice bounce in several of these same markets: France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and even the Far East are all open again. There’s a long way to go but the business is in profit and as such we feel the money received via the Job Retention Scheme would be better served invested in the country’s essential services and recovery,” he said.

Gallagher explained that the company is opening new farms and working to increase the number of fish grown.

“We’re committed to continuing our investment in our farming infrastructure and approaches, and we’ll place much of this investment with the local supply chain – all of which will translate into more well-paid, highly-skilled jobs and additional revenue, both for the Scottish economy at large and the many remote and rural communities in which we work,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Scottish Sea Farms


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