Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation's chief steps down

Published on
June 26, 2020

Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation’s (SSPO) Chief Executive Julie Hesketh-Laird has confirmed that she will leave the trade body in September 2020.

“As the sector emerges from the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis, it is a good time to move on and take on fresh challenges,” Hesketh-Laird, who was appointed to the role in 2018, said. “Salmon farming is now strongly positioned to play a central role in Scotland’s economic recovery.” 

Despite the resilience of Scottish salmon farming during the coronavirus crisis, the sector experienced a significant downturn in export sales in the first quarter of this year, with the volume and value falling 40 percent and 34 percent, respectively.

In total, 13,600 metric tons (MT) of Scottish salmon worth around GBP 100 million (USD 123.9 million, EUR 110.4 million) was exported during the three-month period. This represented a volume decline of 8,900 MT and a reduction in value of more than GBP 51 million (USD 63.2 million, EUR 56.3 million) year-on-year.

The closure of the important foodservice sector in many export markets, significantly reduced passenger flights to key markets like the United States, causing spikes in freight charges and an emerging trend to buy local in many European countries. These have all been factors in the export decline, SSPO said.

Meanwhile, trade bodies Seafood Scotland and Seafish, as part of the Scottish Seafood Training Network, recently brought processors together for a webinar with Scottish Seafood Training Network Chairman Helen Muir to establish what change is required across the sector to make it safer for workers and consumers. 

Muir, who is also head of HR at Dawnfresh, shared measures that the seafood company has recently undertaken to make its operations safe in light of COVID-19. Those measures are intended to ensure production can continue around social distancing and new hygiene guidelines in place, as well as those that might come in the future as we deal with as yet indistinct crises. 

“Although the product is the same, COVID-19 changed almost everything about what we do to reach that point. For an industry that is process-driven we had complex systems in place that have been fine-tuned over years of experience,” she said. “This spring, we had a matter of days to upend our entire operation. From social distancing measures, touchpoint reduction and capacity reviews to making sure employees could still have breaks and holidays, and be safe in an emergency, every single aspect of our business was overhauled.”

Despite those overhauls, the industry has managed to adjust.  

“Worker safety and quality product are ‘mission-critical’ areas for our operation, and so we did what needed done to ensure both continued.  As a result, we are still processing, and importantly, market-ready for an increase in demand,” Muir said. 

According to Seafood Scotland, the country is presently running at around 50 percent processing capacity, but it also said that the sector must be ready as markets prepare to reopen and the consumer demand for premium seafood increases. 

“While some of the larger operations like Dawnfresh have been quick to act, some of the smaller processors have found getting back to some level of operational capacity a real challenge,” Seafood Scotland Interim Head Donna Fordyce said. “It is hard to know where to start, and production has completely stopped in some places. However, to get the entire seafood sector moving again, all parts of the supply chain need to be up and running.”

Photo courtesy of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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