Scotland making push to revive langoustine exports, but Brexit still an obstacle

Published on
May 10, 2022
Scotland's West Coast Regional Inshore Fisheries Group Chair Simon MacDonald at Seafood Expo Global 2022.

The Scottish seafood industry, with help from the Scottish government, is working to revive its langoustine exports after years of decline.

Exports of langoustine – also known as nephrops (Nephrops norwegicus) – from the U.K. to major markets have almost halved in the past decade. Typically exported to Europe – with the three largest buyers being Spain, Italy, and France – the U.K. exported a total of 18,000 metric tons (MT) of langoustine in 2010, with the majority of that being sourced from Scotland.

However, exports or the product dropped to around 9,000 MT in 2019, and the situation has only worsened since then due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response to the drop, the Scottish government formed a working group in October 2020, tasked with finding ways for the langoustine industry to emerge from the pandemic and improve the long-term stability and resilience of the supply chain.

A report commissioned by Seafood Scotland, an organization that works to promote Scottish seafood, said langoustines are the most-important shellfish species in terms of landed value and socio-economic importance to Scottish coastal communities. In 2019, Scottish vessels landed GBP 91 million (USD 114 million) of langoustine, making it the second-most valuable stock landed in Scotland after mackerel. Scotland’s landings comprised 43 percent of global langoustine supply.

A high proportion of langoustine landed in Scotland enter the supply chain as tails, destined for the scampi-processing market – a fact the report noted is a relatively unique characteristic of the U.K. market. The result is a diverse supply chain and reliable market in the U.K. and Ireland, but the price for tails is lower than for whole langoustine. When the U.K. foodservice market collapsed, the price for tails fell by 20 to 30 percent, and this loss has yet to be recovered, according to Simon MacDonald, chair of the West Coast Regional Inshore Fisheries Group.

MacDonald told SeafoodSource the industry is split into two main fishing groups: smaller scale trap fisheries and larger bottom-trawlers.

“Most of the langoustine that are caught by a trawler, they tail them on board,” he said.

The trap fishery makes up a smaller amount of the overall volume, but the higher quality of the product leads a lot of the catch to be exported live, “particularly to Europe,” MacDonald said.

Business that was hampered by COVID-19 is improving as lock-down restrictions finally lift in Europe, but some fishermen, and langoustine and scampi processors, are still struggling to regain pre-pandemic levels of viability and profitability. To make matters worse, Brexit has continued to be an added cost for any exporters – and according to MacDonald that problem is likely to get worse.

“We’ve had all sorts of problems with Brexit, mostly with the paperwork and the costs of it,” he said. “They’ve got new health certificates that just came out, which are far more complicated than the ones we had before.”

According to MacDonald, in the early days of Brexit, shipments were getting stuck due to all the new requirements. The cost of paperwork is also high, reaching up to GBP 600 (USD 740, EUR 700) per customer order, and the delay in introducing an electronic system means that there is considerable room for mistakes to be make, given the volume of paperwork that needs to be filled in. At best, mistakes hold up the shipment, with product deterioration an inevitable consequence, and at worst, the load is rejected or condemned.

“We had a whole lorry of consignment where they refused to sign off because of the wrong quality of ink,” MacDonald said. “You’re at the mercy of the overzealous border control folks.”

The new paperwork requirements also mean that late orders cannot be fulfilled. Prior to Brexit, orders could be accepted up to a relatively late hour prior to dispatch. Some exporters have set up businesses in France to receive shipments as a single order so that only one set of certifications is required.

MacNeil Shellfish, a wholesaler in Scotland with its own logistics arm, has faced delays despite extensive preparation for the shift, MacNeil Shellfish Export Manager Libby McQuarrie told SeafoodSource.

“Even though we had planned extensively, it was still a challenge, there was so much unknown,” she said. “Effectively, Brexit has changed our whole administrative process in the office.”

The border-control process is complicated and requires information throughout the entire supply chain leading up to the product being exported to the E.U., she said.

“From the fishermen right down through to the final journey to the clients, we’ve had to implement many many changes to make our life easier, and hopefully make their life easier too,” McQuarrie said.

Seafood Scotland Langoustine Program Manager Matthew Hurst told SeafoodSource that the organization is working to get the issues resolved.

“We are pressing the government to resolve the issues with Europe, now we are a third-country supplier, and have also been working to set up consolidation hubs where product can be inspected, and paperwork checked before leaving,” Hurst said.

Another goal of Seafood Scotland and the push to renew langoustine exports is diversifying markets beyond its main customers in the E.U. As part of that effort, Seafood Scotland took a group of langoustine fishermen to Seafood Expo North America in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A., and Seafood Expo Global in Barcelona, Spain, to give them insight into the wider supply chain. The group visited retailers, restaurants, and fish markets and were able to link up with potential buyers at the shows.

“The visits enabled us to feel connected to the markets, and it was good to obtain feedback from potential customers tasting our product on the Scottish pavilion,” Iain Whiteman, a long-time langoustine fisherman, told SeafoodSource. “I spend most of my time on the boat, at sea, so visiting the shows has been a welcome eye-opener.”

Whiteman was impressed by the large, untapped potential market in the U.S.A., but acknowledged that several logistical hurdles needed to be resolved before any deals could be made, including a temperature-controlled hub at a major Scottish airport.

According to MacDonald, the construction such a hub may be on the horizon, according to contacts he made at Seafood Expo North America.

“I had contact with Delta Airlines, who were piloting opening a hub in Edinburgh,” he said. “This hub would streamline the supply chain into America, which is so so important.”

A more diverse market, he said, would alleviate some of the issues caused by the “complexities of the European market.”  

Photo by Chris Chase/SeafoodSource

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