£1m to support new Scots prawn working group
Move to develop strategy for struggling sector
The Scottish government has granted £1m to a new ‘resilience group’ that is being set up to support the Scottish Nephrops sector through the coronavirus pandemic, reports Tim Oliver.
The Scottish Nephrops Working Group will investigate the scale of the challenges facing the sector and ‘develop a long-term strategic vision to cement Scotland’s position as the global leader of high-quality Nephrops’, said the Scottish government.
The Nephrops sector in Scotland has been particularly badly impacted by Covid-19, with the loss of important domestic and export markets.
These challenges have been further exacerbated by the lack of clarity regarding Brexit, given that Nephrops are the most important shellfish species in terms of landed value and socio-economic importance to Scottish coastal communities and the wider supply chain.
The formation and funding of the new group comes after representations by the catching, processing and supply sides of the Nephrops sector to Scottish fisheries minister Fergus Ewing, Marine Scotland and Scotland Food and Drink officials over some months to stress the hardship the sector is facing (Fishing News, 24 September, ‘Scots leaders press for help for prawn sector’).
Giving evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee in September, Scottish industry leaders highlighted a slump in demand for Nephrops due to Covid-19, many vessels being tied up, and low prices for their catch for those vessels that were still at sea.
They said that the sector had come together to call for a Nephrops sector-specific resilience initiative.
The new group is expected to oversee the implementation and progress of the new strategy over the next two years. Fergus Ewing said: “Nephrops are critically important to the future of our seafood sector and many coastal communities in Scotland, supporting thousands of local jobs and producing the finest prawns and langoustines in the world.
“They are Scotland’s second largest seafood export, and the coronavirus pandemic has had a significant effect on the sector, with markets remaining depressed and low prices throughout the supply chain. As a result, many businesses are struggling and operating on the edge of viability.
“The working group will provide valuable support to the future viability of the Nephrops sector in Scotland, and the £1m funding is a significant boost to get their work underway.”
The chair of the new group is Uel Morton, who has served in chief executive roles in the Scottish food and drink industry for over two decades. He said that the Scottish Nephrops Working Group would be ‘critical’ to the sector’s future.
“The sector is one of the most fragile areas of Scotland’s economy, yet it delivers so much in terms of employment and exports,” he said.
“Although this group is focused on the particular challenges facing the Nephrops sector, the recommendations from this group will also provide valuable lessons for the wider seafood industry in Scotland at this difficult time.”
Welcoming the formation of the new group, John Anderson, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Organisation, said: “The Nephrops supply chain has been particularly badly hit by the impact of the pandemic – demand from our traditional European export markets is severely depressed, with considerable fluctuations this year due to the restrictions placed on foodservice establishments during first and second wave lockdowns.
“Year to date landings by the prawn fleet are down around 50% in terms of value, with average first sales price down by around one-third. This is not sustainable in the long term, and therefore the group has an important job to do in a relatively short timescale.
“We are grateful that the Scottish government has made £1m in funding available, particularly in the current climate, and we are extremely pleased to have someone of the calibre of Uel Morton onboard acting as independent chairman – his marketing savvy and experience in other agri-food sectors will be instrumental in helping us formulate a successful recovery plan for the entire Nephrops supply chain.”
The Scottish government said that the working group will determine how the £1m support funding is spent ‘based on the key needs and objectives assessed to best support the industry’.
There are 450 vessels in the Scottish Nephrops fleet, ranging from large twin-riggers to creel boats working right around the Scottish coast. They catch Nephrops worth approximately £80m annually – the second highest-value seafood product in Scotland.
The economic value of the Nephrops industry to Scotland can be indicated through two measures – gross value added (GVA) and employment. The direct GVA generated by the Nephrops fleet and related processing amounts to an estimated £36.8m.
Total direct, indirect and induced employment generated from catching and primary processing of Nephrops in Scotland is estimated to be 2,077 full-time equivalent posts.
‘Wealth of experience’
The working group draws together a range of experts with a wealth of experience from across the Nephrops supply chain.
The independent chair of the group, Uel Morton, has extensive knowledge from across the food and drink sector. He has worked as a successful chief executive for 20 years in the agrifood industry, and now works as an independent non-executive director.
The group comprises: Uel Morton – independent chair; Donna Fordyce – Seafood Scotland; John Anderson – SFO; Roy Cunningham – Camalltaidh Ltd; Kevin McDonell – West of Scotland FPO; Daniel Whittle – Whitby Seafoods; Duncan MacInnes – Western Isles Fishermen’s Association/Outer Hebrides Inshore Fisheries Group; and James Cook – DR Collins.