SCOTLAND's salmon industry is facing "acute" labour shortages due to Brexit despite average salaries of £36,000, business leaders have warned.

Salmon Scotland has warned candidates in the Tory leadership contest, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss, Scottish salmon businesses are running 20% light on staff and that without change there was a threat to the industry's business competitiveness.

International sales of Scottish salmon were valued at £280m in the first half of this year, with France accounting for more than half of the total.

But this was down by around 8% compared to 2021, across both EU sales and non-EU sales.

The drop was said to have been offset by increased demand at home.

Scottish salmon is said to be UK’s number one fresh food export, shipping to 52 different markets last year, with growth across 10 of the top 20 markets.

Now the trade body Salmon Scotland has called for a more "enlightened" approach to immigration to assist businesses, which it said was "vital to the economic performance of the UK not only in economically fragile coastal and rural areas but across the length and breadth of the country in processing, engineering, science and technology industries".

Farm-raised Scottish salmon supports 12,000 jobs – many in rural and isolated areas of the country.

But despite growing worldwide demand for the high-protein fish, the industry said the labour pool has shrunk in recent years with many key workers returning to eastern Europe post-Brexit.

Brexit staff shortage a threat to Scots salmon farming

The body says the industry does not have enough staff across key skill areas due to workers returning to their homes in Eastern Europe as a result of Brexit.

Salmon Scotland said that "very low" unemployment and "extremely limited" labour availability in areas where businesses have processing facilities, namely Rosyth near Edinburgh, Argyll, Fort William, Stornoway, Dingwall and three separate sites in Shetland mean processing factories are running 20% light on staff.

And there are ongoing concerns that changes to the Northern Ireland protocol could lead to retaliatory action by the EU, causing increased friction at the border, delays and queues for hauliers crossing to France, or extra costs for exporters.

The protocol is part of the 2019 Brexit deal and keeps Northern Ireland in the EU's single market for goods, preventing a hard border with the Republic of Ireland.

Salmon Scotland said a change to key worker definitions, changes to the salary cap level and a broader public signal that the UK is open to people and thus to business have been cited by the body as measures to improve the issue.

They have also asked candidates to take a "pragmatic" approach to trade negotiations with the EU, avoiding a so-called "trade war", with a "clear focus on the nation's export businesses who depend on a positive, professional relationship with France and the other countries of the EU".

Brexit staff shortage a threat to Scots salmon farming

Tavish Scott, chief executive of Salmon Scotland, said: “Labour shortages in our processing businesses are acute. We would urge you to embrace a more enlightened approach to the movement of labour into the UK so as to assist business.

“Steps could include a change to key worker definitions, changes to the salary cap level and a broader public signal that the UK is open to people and thus to business. No change to the current UK Government approach and the attitude in particular of the Home Office is a clear threat to business competitiveness against our main international competitors."

Fresh salmon from Scotland will normally arrive in France the following morning, but in recent weeks there have been delays of up to 48 hours due to queues on the UK side of the Channel – and there are concerns of repeat problems.

Salmon Scotland wants the UK Government to introduce immediate contingency plans for perishable goods to have priority status when delays occur at peak times such as the summer holidays.

Mr Scott added: “Maintaining and enhancing our export position to the EU and wider European markets is of considerable importance to our businesses…

“Any escalation of EU-UK negotiations over the Northern Ireland protocol is high on our industry risk register. Continuous access to our main markets in Europe is vital for the UK’s food and drink export success story.

“Our ask is that a pragmatic approach is taken to these negotiations by the UK Government.

“No UK export business needs a trade war or even any such suggestion between the UK and the EU.

“We would urge you to deploy a serious, pragmatic approach to these negotiations with a clear focus on the nation’s export businesses who depend on a positive, professional relationship with France and the other countries of the EU.”