Seafish and Seafood Scotland ‘must be reviewed’

Overlap is hitting marketing, say Scots processors

Scotland’s seafood processors are demanding an urgent review into the role of Seafish and Seafood Scotland, reports Tim Oliver.

The Scottish Seafood Association (SSA), which represents processors in Scotland, says that Seafish has become remote to many in the sector.

In a paper designed to kick-start debate on the issue and encourage the UK government to embrace change, the SSA notes that Seafish’s role has become blurred with that of other organisations in the sector such as Seafood Scotland, ‘leading to a confused landscape of bodies with overlapping remits’.

SSA chief executive Jimmy Buchan (pictured) said: “The seafood industry is on the cusp of new opportunities for all sectors – more fish caught, more landed, more processed and transported and sold across the UK and around the world.

“To seize these opportunities and allow every part of our industry to thrive, we must ensure that our marketing of these world-class products is equally world-class. That is why we need an honest appraisal of the structures, functions and funding of Seafish and Seafood Scotland.”

The SSA says that support for the seafood sector and marketing are currently of great relevance in view of the effects of Covid-19 and Brexit, which will bring ‘radical changes to global markets’. The new fisheries bill will also establish ‘a new architecture’ for UK fisheries management.

This would enable each devolved administration having its own marketing body, branding and programme. In the case of Scotland, this is currently the function of Seafood Scotland. The SSA recommends that Seafood Scotland should be ‘nested’ within Seafish, avoiding duplication and confusion among stakeholders.

It says that Seafish has become remote to many in the sector ‘due to drift and a skewed balancing of priorities’ and calls for an urgent review of its strategies and activities. It recommends a change of name to ‘something more inclusive and relevant, perhaps the Seafood Industry Partnership’.

The SSA also calls for a review and reform of the way Seafish and Seafood Scotland are funded. Seafish is currently funded via a levy paid by the processing sector, suppliers of imported seafood, farmers of shellfish and third-party commissioned projects.

The SSA says that funding of the replacement of Seafish and four devolved marketing bodies should be supported by ‘all stakeholders who wish to access the supported services and, crucially, use the Scottish (UK) seafood brand’.

It says the fairest way to fund Seafish would be a through a levy based on a percentage of turnover from stakeholders who choose to subscribe – processor, harvester or grower.

It would then be ‘optional to join the organisation and use the marketing and brand, the technical resources, responsible fisheries management, environmental schemes and R&D programmes’, the paper states.

Seafood Scotland is funded through the EMFF and Scottish government, and there is already discussion underway as to post-Brexit funding.

In terms of how Seafish should be run, the SSA says it is ‘essential’ that the board of a new version of the authority ‘should be comprised of active representatives from each sector as well as non-executive industry specialists’.

Responding to the SSA call for change, Seafish chief executive Marcus Coleman told Fishing News: “Our purpose is to support our seafood industry in the UK to thrive. The nature of the industry is evolving, and more change is coming as we prepare for a world of trading outside the EU.

“We are committed to helping the industry through these changes, and the Seafish board has started preparing for a strategic review. Those discussions will involve each of the government administrations, which we are about to embark upon. We’ll be seeking industry feedback on proposals and how we best serve the seafood sector in the UK as part of the process in 2021.”

A DEFRA spokesperson said: “We welcome the strategic review being undertaken by Seafish to provide recommendations on its future purpose and functions.

“Seafish’s campaign to appoint a new chair and board members, which opened on 18 September, provides a tangible opportunity for representatives across the industry to shape the future of Seafish and how it can best serve the seafood sectors of the UK.”

Donna Fordyce, head of Seafood Scotland, said: “There is no doubt that the efforts to market our world-class Scottish seafood in domestic and international markets deserve to be properly funded, particularly as our current source of funding through the EU will come to an end post-Brexit.

“Seafood Scotland has already undertaken a major strategic review which looked at how to sustainably secure and fund our activities and the benefits we offer to the seafood sector. Some measures have been implemented already, but others have been put on ice while we focus all our energies on the very practical and very urgent help that the sector needs right now to ensure that the impacts of Covid-19, and then Brexit, do as little damage as possible.”

Marine Scotland did not respond to request for comment.

Scots MP calls for Seafish reform

A Scottish MP made a strong case for the reform of Seafish during a Westminster debate on the new fisheries bill.

Introducing amendments to the bill, SNP Argyll and Bute MP Brendan O’Hara said that the Scottish government and many in the industry believed that Seafish was not sufficiently flexible to meet the needs of the entire sector and required ‘radical reform’.

“Seafish has an intrinsic flaw in attempting to represent the entirety of the United Kingdom while operating in a policy area that is wholly devolved,” he said.

He called for devolved control to Scottish ministers of both the funding and the executive powers of Seafish.

He said that Scotland should play a key role in deciding how Scotland’s share of the levy was spent, and that a remodelled Seafish would be able to exercise functions separately in different parts of the UK.

He highlighted the complexity of the UK fishing industry, with ‘a whole host of different fishing interests and practices’. “From England’s south coast to the most northerly point of Shetland, the industry is multi-layered, complex, nuanced and often localised.”

And given that there are also four separate national governments looking after the industry, it was ‘absurd’ that there was a ‘one-size-fits-all fishing authority’ servicing catching, aquaculture, processing, importers, exporters and distributers of seafood, as well as looking after restaurants and retailers, he said.

The fisheries bill ‘gives us the perfect opportunity to reform the current system,’ said the Argyll and Bute MP.

UK fisheries minister Victoria Prentis replied that Seafish undertakes valuable work, and said that the current model ‘works well’.

She said that the authority can deliver or fund bespoke services in each administration, but in many cases delivers UK-wide work.

“That is partly because of efficiencies of scale, but also because the supply chains across the UK are similar and have similar challenges and opportunities.”

The minister that said the proposed amendments would be costly and affect the viability of Seafish. “I am not convinced of the need to legislate on all these matters,” she said.


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