Scots salmon exports fall £168m amid Covid, Brexit

The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) said on Friday that the worldwide Covid pandemic had a “significant and damaging effect” on exports of Scottish salmon in 2020.

The SSPO said official export statistics published by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) show that exports of Scottish salmon fell 23% in 2020 to 72,155 tonnes.

Export sales of whole, fresh Scottish were down £168 million in 2020 to £451 million, from £619 million in 2019.

“The impact of the pandemic, which shut food service outlets around the world and greatly restricted air transport, hit distant markets the hardest,” said the SSPO.

“Scottish salmon sales in China were down 76 per cent by value and down 42 per cent by value in the US.

“As sales dropped in the more distant markets, Scotland’s salmon producers turned more to Europe.

“Exports of Scottish salmon to the EU became more important in 2020, accounting for 69 per cent of all global sales in volume (50,000 tonnes) and 64 per cent in value (£288 million) terms, an increase from 56 per cent and 52 per cent in 2019 respectively.”

SSPO CEO Tavish Scott warned that the greater emphasis on Europe has left producers even more vulnerable to the problems caused by Brexit.

Scott said the pandemic, followed by the Brexit end-of-transition change, has “a double whammy” for the sector.

“The last year has been a bruising time for the Scottish salmon sector, as these new figures show,” said Scott.

“Our producers have battled really hard to get salmon to their customers around the world, against really strong head winds.

“It is to their credit that they have managed to get so much salmon to their global customers and the switch to EU trade was a good way of offsetting the difficulties experienced elsewhere.

“But now that the UK has left the EU and the full implications of Brexit are clear, our members are suffering from the burden of excessive bureaucracy and red tape which is making it difficult for them to compete in the European market.

“That is why we appealed to both the UK and Scottish governments to come together with experts from across our sector and supply chain, to find ways of streamlining the red tape and giving our members the certainty of getting fish to the EU markets on time.”

Celine Kimpflin, Head of Markets at Scottish Sea Farms, one of the biggest producers of Scottish salmon, said the first week of January, when Brexit’s new rules kicked in, had been an “utter disaster” for salmon exporters.

Kimpflin said: “We knew it was going to be difficult but we didn’t expect it to be this difficult. I don’t think as a country we were that well prepared in terms of bureaucracy.”

Kimpflin said health certificates which should take half an hour to complete sometimes took as long as 10 hours to process.

Scottish Sea Farms exports around 200 tonnes of salmon to the EU a week, but this has been reduced by as much as half.

Kimpflin welcomed the creation of the UK government taskforce which met on Friday for the first time and is designed to help streamline the system.

But she said an even better solution would be to invite EU officials to Scotland and show them how the salmon sector operates.

“We need to have a dialogue, work out how we can make the export process more streamlined and give them confidence to import our product,” said Kimpflin.

“At the end of the day though, we have good relationships with our customers built up over the years and it is not the company they have a problem with.

“That gives me real hope.”

About the Author

Mark McSherry
Dalriada Media LLC sites are edited by veteran news journalist Mark McSherry, a former staff editor and reporter with Reuters, Bloomberg and major newspapers including the South China Morning Post, London's Sunday Times and The Scotsman. McSherry's journalism has also appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Independent, The New York Times, London's Evening Standard and Forbes. McSherry is also a professor of journalism and communication arts in universities and colleges in New York City. Scottish-born McSherry has an MBA from the University of Edinburgh and a Certificate in Global Affairs from New York University.