One of the top Scottish seafood champions wants the new fisheries minister to visit the north-east as soon as possible to help the sector thrive post-Brexit rather than just survive.
Scottish Seafood Association (SSA) chief executive Jimmy Buchan said it was critical that Mairi Gougeon MSP, now cabinet secretary for rural affairs and islands following the recent ministerial reshuffle at Holyrood, pays an early visit to the heart of this country’s seafood industry in her new role.
Mr Buchan said there were plenty of issues needing Ms Gougeon’s attention as the processing sector continues to battle against the twin impacts of Covid-19 and the Brexit “debacle”, which saw major hold-ups for exports of Scottish seafood earlier this year.
“We need to get hope and viability back into our seafood industry.”
Jimmy Buchan, Scottish Seafood Association chief executive
The ongoing challenges of the coronavirus and post-Brexit red tape, as well as exorbitant business rates are a huge burden for many Scottish seafood processors, he said.
“We often seem forgotten”
He added: “Any new minister coming into the brief needs to engage with various parts of the seafood industry.
“What always concerns me is that we (processors) often seem to be the forgotten sector, even though we are the biggest employer and a vital part of the seafood supply chain.”
It is vital for Ms Gougeon to understand the important role of the supply chain as an integral part of the wider industry, with the catch and processing sectors working together like “hand and glove” in getting Scottish seafood from sea to plate, Mr Buchan said.
He added: “In the past, it is the fishermen who have always been first and foremost in (government) briefings – but we need to make sure one sector does not dominate the narrative. Fergus (former fisheries minister Fergus Ewing) fully understood that.
Mr Ewing – who has stepped down from front bench duties – has left an important “legacy” in that he and his team of officials, together with counterparts from the UK Government were able to “strip out all the politics” and team up in a taskforce that was set up earlier this year to help resolve Scottish seafood export woes, Mr Buchan said.
SSA’s CEO said it was important for Ms Gougeon to keep up this constructive dialogue, adding she may also bring some “new energy” and “fresh” ideas to the role. “I look forward to her sharing some of her thinking on how we can move forward,” he said.
North-east processors are also keen to know more – from both the UK and Scottish governments – about the availability of funding to replace the EU’s European Maritime and Fisheries Fund,” Mr Buchan said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s £100 million pledge earlier this year to help the fishing industry recover from the impacts of Covid-19 and Brexit is another point of focus as everyone awaits an update on how the cash will be distributed and accessed, he added.
“We need to help our businesses go from surviving to thriving,” Mr Buchan said, adding: “We’re still in survival mode at the moment, we can’t keep digging ourselves into a black hole.”
“We need to get hope and viability back into our seafood industry, we are at the races and ready to go.”
Congratulations to @MairiGougeon on appointment to Rural Affairs portfolio in @scotgov. We look forward to engaging at the earliest opportunity on the many challenges that confront our sector. Thanks & best to @FergusEwingSNP for support/willingness to listen to industry.
— SFF (@sff_uk) May 19, 2021
More Scottish seafood is being exported this year, compared with 2020, but by a smaller number of firms, Mr Buchan said.
Sending produce overseas remains “challenging and very risky” for many smaller businesses, he said, adding these included his own firm, Peterhead-based Amity Fish Company.
Congratulating Ms Gougeon on her appointment, Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Elspeth Macdonald said: “We look forward to engaging at the earliest opportunity on the many challenges that confront the sector.
“Thanks also to Fergus Ewing, who has stood down from the government, for his support, commitment and willingness to listen to the industry.”