SEAFOOD firm Loch Fyne Oysters has seen losses widen amid pressure on fresh salmon pricing and rising staff costs.

New accounts show losses at the Argyll-based seafood firm, which supplies smoked salmon and oysters to high-end hotels, restaurants and retailers, spiralled to £763,307 in the year ended October 31.

The firm, originally formed by landowner Jonny Noble and marine biologist Andy Lane more than 40 years ago, had booked a loss of £528,457 the year before.

Managing director Cameron Brown said Loch Fyne continued to face competition during the year from rivals which are prepared to import salmon from markets outside of Scotland.

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He noted that the firm could have made savings of “at least half of million” pounds last year - enough to almost wipe out its losses - had it sourced cheaper salmon on the spot market.

Mr Brown said: “The competition is really quite tough. We are insulated to some degree [because] we are at the very top-end... but we are up against guys happy to buy Norwegian, [and] Faroese [salmon].

“Some of them smoke them in Scotland. Some of the them are smoked in England and are sold on the market as Scottish smoked salmon.”

Despite the pressure this is bringing to Loch Fyne, Mr Brown said the business will not compromise on its policy of not just buying Scottish salmon, but salmon from its single trusted source. And he said there was evidence the price of Scottish salmon was beginning to firm this year.

Mr Brown added: “We built our business on that [philosophy]. I know the results last year [showed] a bit of a struggle, but other than that it has been a fantastic year.”

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Loch Fyne notes in the accounts that it had also been challenged during the by rising staff costs, after finding itself having to be “more competitive in a reducing labour pool.” Mr Brown added: “Overtime was relied on at seasonal peak to a greater extent that previously.”

However, he said the period had seen the firm realise a major strategic aim by resuming exports to the US for the first time in 15 years. He noted that it had cost Loch Fyne between £70,000 and £80,000 to secure approval for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to return to the market.

And he highlighted the importance of the deal it clinched with Waitrose to supply 60 its its stores with live oysters and mussels.

The accounts for Loch Fyne show that turnover increased by five per cent to £16.33 million, with the increase put down to “export activity driven by smokery and traded products.”

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A breakdown of turnover provided by the accounts show the UK accounted for the bulk of sales, rising to £10.1m from £9.9m, with sales to Europe surging to £4.6m from £4m. The value of exports to the Far East dipped to £1.2m from £1.28m, while sales to “rest of world” edged up to £555,831 from £435,340, the accounts show.

Mr Brown that Loch Fyne’s main European markets include Switzerland, Italy and Germany. Asked whether the firm had made any plans for Brexit, he said the fact it sources its salmon in Scotland limits how much preparations it will have to make. It will carry more ingredients such as salt and sugar in the event trade is disrupted, and will advise customers to carry slightly more stock than usual.

He said: “Our products are slightly longer shelf life as well - you get a 20-day shelf life on smoked salmon. Live products [such as] oysters and mussels are going to be a wee bit more [problematic], but it is not massive volumes. At least 50 per cent of what we export goes by air freight - that goes to Hong Kong, Singapore, China, the United States.”

He added: “It’s just a case of trying to be on your toes.”

According to the accounts, Loch Fyne employed an average of 132 staff last year, down from 140.

Meanwhile, Loch Fyne again expressed its disquiet over a new charging regime introduced by Argyll & Bute Council, which has hiked the cost of health and safety certificates for exports to countries outside the EU. The firm will pay £125,000 for certificates this year, more than 30 times the amount it paid two years ago.

Mr Brown, who has been lobbying MSPs and MPs on the issue, said the council “can’t justify” the hike.