Scottish salmon has global aspirations

Published on
August 23, 2016

Anne McColl, new CEO of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, set out her vision for the industry during an interview with Seafood Source, and explained why this fish has become a world-renowned icon.

SeafoodSource: Scottish salmon has an enviable reputation all over the world as a high quality product. What do you attribute this to?

McColl: Scottish salmon sits alongside Scotch whisky as an iconic product, particularly in the export market. It has very strong branding and attracts a premium price. Images of lochs, mountains and tartan, used in generic advertising over the past few decades, have all helped to raise its profile.

It has also been advantageous to have Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) for Scottish salmon, which stops it being ‘passed off,’ and the prestigious Label Rouge designation denotes its quality attribution on the French market.

A lot of science, technology and expertise goes into producing Scottish salmon. The industry is heavily regulated, stands up environmentally, is young, dynamic and ambitious. Every company has a major focus on quality, and most importantly, it is a very tasty and nutritious product to eat.

SeafoodSource: Who eats Scottish salmon?

McColl: Salmon is Scotland’s number one food export by a long way, and I am certain that it will continue to be.

In the first quarter of 2016, exports rose to 18,418 metric tons (MT), with a value of GBP 95.8 million, (USD 124.17 million, EUR 111.32 million) up from 16,653 MT worth GBP 82.5 million (USD 106.94 million, EUR 95.85 million) during the same period in 2015.

Scotland currently has of 7 percent share of the global salmon market, with exports going to more than 60 countries. The top importers are the USA, France and China, with China more than doubling the value of imports in the first quarter of this year to GBP 13,039 million (USD 16,898 million, EUR 15,151 million).

Asia is of particular importance in our export strategy and much work is being done there by Scottish Development International and Scotland Food and Drink, to increase awareness and boost sales. Scottish Salmon remains supportive of the work carried out by these organisations.

As well as being a popular export, salmon has long been the most popular seafood amongst British consumers. According to data analysts Nielsen, in the year to 23 April, 2016, sales increased by more than 6 percent to GBP 873.6 million (USD 1,132.41 million, EUR 1,015 million), with fresh salmon accounting for sales of GBP 762.8 million (USD 988.57 million, EUR 886.26 million). Total fish sales in the UK during this period were GBP 3.1 billion (USD 4.02 billion, EUR 3.6 billion).

SeafoodSource: What is your ambition for the industry?

McColl: My key ambition is to increase the economic value of the sector from the current GBP 1.8 billion (USD 2.03, EUR 2.09 billion) to GBP 3.6 billion (USD 4.67 billion, EUR 4.18 billion) by 2030. This would be achieved by increasing production capacity to keep pace with demand and creating new and supporting existing jobs and communities in the Highlands and Islands.

A working group is currently developing a new plan called the Scottish Aquaculture 2030 Vision for Growth, which will be published later this year. It will present an ambitious vision with time-bound recommendations to help grow the industry in a socially, economically and environmentally sustainable manner.

The Scottish salmon industry currently produces around 180,000 MT per year and directly employs more than 2,250 people. The vast majority of employees are located in the Highlands and Islands. If you look at the whole supply chain, taking into account sectors such as processing, feed, equipment manufacturing, support services such as fish health, plus retail/wholesale and transportation, the employment level goes up to around 8,000 people.

In particular, I want young people to understand that we have a diverse, forward thinking industry with an attractive career path so that we can attract the brightest and the best into the sector.

Industry is already investing heavily in innovation, including new hatcheries and feed plants, replacing older fish pen systems to enhance stock security, and looking at ways to make better use of the whole fish, to reduce waste, and add value throughout the supply chain.

SeafoodSource: What do you see as the main challenges faced by salmon farmers?

McColl: One of our main biological challenges is sea lice, but that is not unique to the Scottish industry. The sector is currently investing more than GBP 10 million (USD 12.97 million, EUR 11.6 million) working with scientists and are supported by the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre on a variety of projects to look at new and innovative ways to overcome this challenge.

One of the key projects undertaken so far is the cleanerfish breeding programme at Machrahanish. Scottish Sea Farms and Marine Harvest Scotland have combined their knowledge, skills and facilities to learn how to successfully farm cleanerfish to use as a biological control against sea lice.

Another challenge facing the industry is a lengthy and complex planning process which requires significant resource and financial investment with no certainty of approval. New licences are essential in order to grow the industry and reach the target of 210,000 MT.

Feed is a challenge in terms of cost, because fish oil is a major expense. In order to deliver a product to millions of consumers all over the world, we need to look at how we can control production costs, and how we plan for the future with non-marine ingredients, so that we continue to improve our sustainability credentials.

However, we still need to ensure that the health benefits to the consumer are not affected.

SeafoodSource: Will BREXIT affect the market?

McColl: No market likes instability, but it’s been business as usual for the industry, with companies continuing to trade all over the world. At present the exchange rates are favourable for exporters but I know it has caused concern for the international companies operating in Scotland. Currency fluctuations have also affected the feed industry, as so many of the raw ingredients are imported.

Looking to the future, no one knows what might happen with trade tariffs, but SSPO will feed our members’ views through to government as and when required.

In short, I see a productive and prosperous future ahead for Scottish salmon.

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