Scottish aquaculture lauded for its resolve during coronavirus crisis

Published on
April 13, 2020

Scotland’s aquaculture businesses and associated supply-chains have been praised for continuing to supply essential food to U.K. consumers during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has so far resulted in more than 61,000 residents test positive for the coronavirus and more than 7,000 lives lost in the United Kingdom.

In a letter to the sector, Scotland Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said he was acutely aware of the significant challenges it was facing. He also asked businesses and employers to ensure that operations adhere to the social distancing guidelines that have been handed down to stop the spread of the virus.

“I want to thank you for keeping the supply lines open, for making sure that the Scottish salmon, trout, and shellfish reared around our coasts has been grown, harvested, packaged, shipped, and delivered to customers all across the country every single day, despite the barriers this crisis has placed in your way,” he wrote. “All of you have played a part, from the fish farmers to the hauliers, from the vets to the processors and from the divers to the wellboat operators and entire supply chain – everybody involved in Scottish aquaculture has shown how important they are, continuing to deliver more than one million healthy meals to people throughout Scotland and the U.K., every single day.”

Ewing stressed that while food is part of the “national critical infrastructure” during this crisis, businesses can only continue to operate if they abide by the strict health and safety guidelines that are currently in place.

This is the responsibility of employers, not employees, he added.

“Our top priority will always be to protect the health and well-being of the Scottish population: we will do everything possible to protect people’s lives and keep our people safe,” Ewing said. “Companies in the food production, supply, and distribution sector can continue to operate and keep our country fed, but only if they adhere to the new rules.”

While Scottish government has introduced a range of measures to support businesses, Ewing said that he was also “deeply aware of the difficulties smaller business are now facing,” with industry leaders advising U.K. funds could come too late.

“We will continue to press the U.K. government for earlier release of funds and meantime will consider what else we can do in Scotland to support you. I would strongly encourage employers not to lay off staff but to use the Job Retention Scheme where appropriate,” Ewing said. “Beyond finance, we are working with key aquaculture representatives to ensure the entire sector remains viable and that there will continue to be highly skilled and well-paid jobs once this pandemic ends. Measures we are taking include looking at how we can protect our key workers, managing aquaculture stock by, for example, enabling fish to stay longer in the water while ensuring their health and welfare are maintained; and, looking further ahead, working to maintain domestic demand and re-establishing exports to critical overseas markets.”

In recent weeks, the Scottish government has allocated more than GBP 5 million (USD 6.2 million, EUR 5.7 million) of funding to the nation’s fishing companies and GBP 10 million (USD 12.4 million, EUR 11.4 million) to the processing sector to help them through the crisis

To keep supply lines open to U.K. supermarkets during the COVID-19 pandemic – while protecting fish farmers’ health and maintaining fish welfare and environmental standards – the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has created a temporary protocol for producers. This has seen farms reduce their workforces to minimum levels.

Furthermore, in order to protect farmed salmon against sea lice challenges and minimize any risk to wild salmon, bath treatments are permitted over a shorter time period with higher peak concentrations, although there will be no increase in the overall quantity of medicines used. This is intended to allow workers to move around the farms more quickly. 

Bath treatments may be administered in the pens using a tarpaulin or in well-boats. Also, the in-feed medicine SLICE continues to be used.

“The absolute priority is protecting public health and companies are keeping staffing levels as low as possible and adopting government advice. At the same time, the sector has a responsibility to keep fish healthy and follow regulatory protocols and we are pleased that SEPA and Marine Scotland have worked with us to find a suitable balance between protecting workers’ health and good standards of fish health and environmental management,” Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) Sustainability Director Anne Anderson said. “As the pandemic continues, we will work closely with SEPA and other regulators and organizations to ensure that they are well informed about actions taken on farms and to anticipate any further changes that may be needed in the future.”  

Photo courtesy of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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