Salmon farmers are, like all of us, anticipating the arrival of the United Nation’s COP26 conference in Glasgow later this year and are actively engaging with the Scottish Government’s target of net-zero emissions of all greenhouse gases by 2045.

That should be good news for the economy at a time when we are still battling the coronavirus pandemic and dealing with the consequences of trading with Europe post-Brexit but with farmed salmon Scotland’s number one food export there was understandable concern last month when the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) published HMRC data revealing that its exports of salmon have fallen by an alarming 23 per cent, with export sales of whole, fresh salmon down by £168 million in 2020 at £451m.

While the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a dramatic reduction in air transport which has cut down valuable markets, including in the US and Far East, Tavish Scott, the SSPO’s chief executive is clearly frustrated by the “excessive bureaucracy and unacceptable red tape” caused by Brexit

Exports to Europe he says are hampered by a burden of documentation that the SSPO believes is not fit for purpose and the ‘new normal’ is not working in a sector for which freshness and delivery in one to two days is crucial requirement.

The situation is particularly dispiriting as, in addition to the value that salmon exports bring to our economy, the sector is also at the forefront of the Scottish Government’s sustainability ambitions: last November the SSPO published A Better Future For Us All, a charter that sets the standards it will meet over the coming decades with commitments to be net zero in greenhouse gas emissions before 2045, highlighting the importance of the ‘blue economy’.

HeraldScotland:

“We need the support of government – and we need regulators to be understanding of our needs as a sector that provides healthy, nutritious food for the international marketplace and the protein that the world needs as the economies of the wider world start to pick up again,” says Scott. 

It’s a sense of urgency shared by the 2,500 direct employees in fish farms and another 10,000 people working in the sector across Scotland many of these in rural Highland and Island areas, with some 3500 companies in the supply chain receiving £6 million-£7m pounds of investment from it every year.

“Fundamentally we are using a system of documentation that’s designed for New Zealand lamb, not a very perishable product such as salmon that needs to be out of the water, into the market and on to a plate within 48-72 hours and salmon farmers are experiencing a variety of issues getting fish to market in good time,” says Scott.

He adds that while current volumes are manageable, those will soon rise, with many SSPO members having delayed or reduced harvests, meaning those fish will have to be harvested soon. 

A new Scottish Seafood Exports Taskforce, chaired by UK Government Minister for Scotland David Duguid, has met to  discuss the ongoing problems with exports, a development which Scott welcomes: “This burden of documentation and red tape is causing endless delays in delivering salmon into the marketplace and while we can try to overcome those problems as hard as we can, the paperwork is completely inappropriate for the type of product and the timescales in which we are operating.”

He expects that the EU’s currently inflexible attitude to new customs regulations will begin to change as  next month its own companies exporting into the UK will have to put up with the same paperwork and concludes: “We have an excellent working relationship with government here and  our partners in the regulatory sphere, with a shared agenda of moving the sector forward on a productive and sensible basis”.