(Published in East Lothian Courier, February 11th, 2021
Until a year ago, Scottish seafood had grown into a £1bn business, with half exported to the EU. East Lothian harbours contributed to this, landing prawns, crab and lobster, much of it for export.
A month of post-Brexit chaos ensnared lorry-loads of perishable seafood in red tape. With the EU making their temporary shellfish ban permanent a disastrous year for restaurants and their seafood suppliers, small producers like ours are suffering badly.
Seafood Scotland and allied organisations are lobbying the UK government to remove export barriers. But it is clear fishing was sold down the river during Brexit negotiations. Meantime, boats tie up from a dearth of customers and the Larkhall distribution depot sees little business The Scottish Government set up the Scottish Seafood Partnership (SSP) in 2014 to deal with such things, but they are not answering their phone. 2018’s paper on “Future Management of Fisheries” is now only good as firelighter.
Scotland’s whitefish fleet is chasing EU markets by registering boats in Northern Ireland and landing in Denmark. But shellfish are landed by inshore boats, without such options. Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing has announced £6.45m for the Seafood Producers Resilience Fund for shellfish catchers and producers, plus £1m for investment in ports and harbours. This is welcome, but a short-term ‘band-aid’. We need a new, visionary strategy to meet new circumstances.
BBC2’s Cornwall: This Fishing Life highlights initiatives by inshore fishermen there in doing something about it., with scant government help. From exploiting Rick Stein’s burgeoning restaurants, they set up their own local fish market and dealt with end customers as far away as London. When Covid closed restaurants, they opened stalls to sell locally, they built small processors, selling to food shops.
This is Fergus’ opportunity: to lead this major segment in new diections; to champion world-class shellfish global;y; to ride the recovery of consumer demand: by:
- Several Orders, regulating who fishes which catch where (c.f. Maine USA)
- Quotas and sensible handling of by-catch
- Restore stocks, using N. Berwick’s Lobster Hatchery as a model
- Encourage retail fish markets, supplied direct from dockside
- Re-introduce Scottish oysters (smaller & sweeter than Pacific)
- Infrastructure to fly seafood globally (esp. China & Middle East)
With its picturesque harbours, excellent shellfish and proximity to Edinburgh restaurants, East Lothian would be the perfect prototype. I look forward to standing Fergus his lunch at the Lobster Shack, once this Covid distraction is done.
(East Lothian is a county in Scotland, lying between the capital, Edinburgh and the North Sea, with a long tradition of inshore fishing from its three small harbours.)