A disaster-struck fish factory could rise from the ashes with the backing of a government task force.
The Northbay Pelagic Ltd plant at Peterhead – one of the largest and most advanced fish processing sites of its kind in Europe – was devastated by a fire on Saturday.
Speaking in Holyrood yesterday, Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead MSP revealed government officials will meet officers from Aberdeenshire Council and Scottish Enterprise in the north-east on Friday.
They will discuss what support can be offered to Northbay Pelagic management to help safeguard hundreds of jobs and livelihoods which depended on the plant.
The Press and Journal has also learned that several of the firm’s rivals based in Peterhead- including Lunar, Denholm and Shetland Catch – have offered to help by processing on behalf of Northbay.
The companies declined to comment yesterday.
However, church leaders met last night and will meet again this morning to discuss how the town’s congregations can best support the staff from the fish processing company, including the many foreign nationals who are employed by Northbay Pelagic on a temporary basis.
Meanwhile, a drop-in session for Northbay Pelagic workers concerned about their jobs will be held by Aberdeenshire Council tomorrow at the town’s Hot Spot community hub.
Mr Lochhead said everything possible was being done to support the business when he spoke during yesterday’s Topical Questions in the Scottish Parliament.
He said: “Northbay Pelagic is one of the largest fish factories in Scotland and the company is a major employer, with around 120 full-time staff and 100 temporary staff.
“The fire has destroyed the processing plant and production line, but the company has said that it intends to rebuild the plant as quickly as possible. Indeed, when I spoke to the company today, it reaffirmed that intention.
“It is imperative that we all pull together to get the company up and running again.”
The cabinet secretary was responding to calls from north-east MSP Alison McInnes – who cited comments made by Scottish Pelagic Fishermen’s Association boss Ian Gatt in the Press and Journal yesterday – for the government to step in and help the company.
Mr Lochhead continued: “We have instructed all the public agencies to take the matter extremely seriously, not least to give some comfort to the staff – who remain in employment on full-time pay – that everything is being done to secure their future.”
It is understood that the wider economic impact of the blaze – which burned for more than 10 hours and was fought by dozens of firefighters – will be discussed during Friday’s meeting.
The establishment of the task force received cross-party backing from north-east Liberal Democrat MSP Alison McInnes, the SNP’s Banffshire and Buchan coast MSP Stewart Stevenson as well Labour’s shadow cabinet secretary for Rural Affairs Sarah Boyack.
Mrs Boyack described the move as “hugely important for the fishing industry and for the knock-on effect on local economic development”.
While politicians wrangled with the aftermath of the disaster in Holyrood, cleanup and investigation efforts were continuing in the Buchan port.
Local people gathered to watch contractors tear down sections of the former Crosse and Blackwell building with a 25-tonne Volvo excavator.
The machines clawed cut through the factory’s bent and buckled steel frame, which was melted by the heat of the inferno.
A joint police and fire service investigation into the cause of the blaze is also continuing.
Last night a Scottish Fire and Rescue Service spokesman said: “We had a crew go out each hour to check up on the scene. There were no further ignitions or hotspots.
“Fire inspectors were in attendance today but there is no update.”
A spokeswoman for Police Scotland added that “inquiries are ongoing”.
Several roads around the factory in Peterhead’s Kirk Square remain closed while the time-consuming demolition work continues.