Trade body Seafood Scotland has urged the UK’s biggest supermarkets to reopen their fresh fish counters to help boost sales after Covid-19 shut off access to key markets.
With hotels, restaurants and catering businesses around the world having temporarily ceased trading, the Scottish seafood industry is now dependent on retailers for its survival.
But many of the fresh fish counters in supermarkets around Britain have closed during the pandemic.
Others were long gone before the outbreak as major chains switched their focus to pre-packed seafood.
Morrisons recently reopened its fresh fish and meat counters in a welcome move to support UK producers – and Seafood Scotland wants more of the big chains to follow its lead.
In a letter sent to the chief executives of Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, Donna Fordyce, head of Seafood Scotland, said: “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.
“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.”
Scottish seafood production has been devastated by the impact of coronavirus. 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 economic hardship.
Pre-coronavirus, 80% of Scottish seafood and shellfish was exported, with the remaining 20% destined for UK foodservice and retail.
The export market is now almost at a standstill, leaving the sector completely reliant on the UK market to keep afloat.
Even within this domestic market there are problems as the foodservice sector is currently operating at minimal levels due to the UK lockdown.
UK multiple retailers and some independents are, therefore, now at the front line of supplying UK consumers with locally caught seafood.
Some fishing businesses are selling direct to the public, but this trade is contained within small pockets and, according to Seafood Scotland, amounts to a “drop in the ocean”.
Ms Fordyce said the reopening of fish counters would help many more consumers to “eat local”.
She added: “We get to eat our own high-quality, delicious, healthy and sustainable seafood – so Scottish coastal communities can continue to operate, albeit at reduced capacity.
“The supermarkets are key to making this happen.”
Seafood Scotland said there was a noticeable shift in consumer behaviour taking place across Europe, with more people “moving towards a buy local approach”.
The trade body added: “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.”