Seafood Scotland, on behalf of the Scottish seafood sector, has written to the chief executives of the main UK supermarket retailers, urging them to reopen their fresh fish counters. 

With international markets closed off, and the UK restaurant/catering sector largely shut down, the entire sector is relying on retail for survival, but most of the fresh fish counters in major multiple retailers have been closed for weeks.  Only Morrisons has reopened its fresh counters in recent days, in a welcome move to support the meat and fish sectors. 

In the letter, sent to the leaders of ASDA, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, Donna Fordyce, Head of Seafood Scotland, says: “It is imperative that fish counters are reopened to allow consumers access to fresh, locally caught seafood from the domestic market as part of their essential shop.”

The Scottish seafood sector has been devastated by the impact of the coronavirus.  The Scottish seafood industry landed around 450,000 tonnes of sea fish and shellfish from around 2000 vessels.  150 processing sites employ over 13,000 staff.  With an estimated 60% drop in demand, the industry is suffering, and fishing families and the wider communities that rely on the sector are facing real economic hardship.

Pre-coronavirus, 80% of Scottish seafood and shellfish was exported, with the remaining 20% destined for UK food service and retail.  With the export market at a standstill, the sector is now completely reliant on the UK market to keep afloat, and even within this segment the food service sector is operating at minimal levels due to the UK lockdown.

This means UK multiple retailers and some independents are now at the front line of supplying the nation with locally caught seafood.  Some fishing businesses are selling direct to the public, but this trade is contained within small pockets, and amounts to a drop in the ocean. 

Donna Fordyce continues: “Once the lockdown was implemented many of the main multiples closed their fish counters – effectively blocking a significant part of our domestic market.  We understand why this happened – retail was under enormous pressure at the time, and social distancing felt like a barrier.  However, we believe that the operational pressure has eased slightly as retailers and consumers alike become more used to working around social distancing in supermarkets.  Morrisons has already proved it can be done.” 

“It’s time for consumers to eat local, eat Scottish.  We get to eat our own high quality, delicious, healthy, and sustainable seafood, so that the Scottish coastal communities can continue to operate, albeit at reduced capacity.  The supermarkets are key to making this happen.”

We are seeing a shift in consumer behaviour across Europe moving towards a buy local approach and signs are that this will continue after this pandemic. The support of the UK supermarket sector is now imperative to assist a core industry that is currently severely affected by this crisis.

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