Mar­tin Jaffa

In­dus­try fund could help young busi­nesses get off the ground

Fish Farmer - - Contents – Editor’s Welcome - BY DR MAR­TIN JAFFA FF

AQUA Nor was a timely re­minder of the many new prod­ucts, de­vel­op­ments and ser­vices that are launched to help the aquacultur­e in­dus­try and, es­pe­cially, sal­mon farm­ing. There is al­ways the prospect of some­thing new on the hori­zon. I men­tion this be­cause I am some­times con­tacted by peo­ple with new ideas. They even­tu­ally come to me be­cause they are strug­gling to find the nec­es­sary help to bring their idea to the in­dus­try, par­tic­u­larly help with fund­ing, and they hope that I might be able to point them in the right di­rec­tion.

This may have been true once, but the in­no­va­tion cli­mate has changed con­sid­er­ably since I was last in­volved.

I too had an ‘idea’ that I hoped would ben­e­fit the in­dus­try and, many years on, I still think that it has merit.

The idea was sub-sur­face feed­ing. By in­tro­duc­ing buoy­ant feed into the bot­tom of a net pen, the feed would still pass through the wa­ter col­umn, but up­wards rather than down.

Uneaten feed would not pass out into the open wa­ter but would ap­pear at the sur­face, en­sur­ing feed­ing would im­me­di­ately stop.

The real ben­e­fit is that by feed­ing the sal­mon lower in the pen, they would be en­cour­aged to avoid the sur­face lay­ers, where lar­val sea lice tend to con­gre­gate.

Un­for­tu­nately, de­vel­op­ment of this prod­uct stum­bled along the way. My view now is that this ap­proach was prob­a­bly too far ahead of its time.

Fund­ing even­tu­ally ran out, de­spite help from the en­ter­prise net­work. The con­cept was more re­cently put to the Scot­tish Aquacultur­e In­no­va­tion Cen­tre (SAIC) for them to pur­sue, but they weren’t in­ter­ested.

Against this back­ground, I can fully un­der­stand the frus­tra­tion of young com­pa­nies that have a great idea but are un­able to find ways to take it for­ward be­cause they don’t have enough re­sources.

The re­al­ity is that the sup­port no longer ex­ists as it used to. This is in part due to the na­tional aus­ter­ity pro­gramme. It means less money to ad­vise com­pa­nies and less money to fund projects.

Al­though there are pro­grammes specif­i­cally aimed at help­ing the Scot­tish sal­mon in­dus­try, they are of lit­tle help to the en­tre­pre­neur­ial small busi­ness.

In­stead, they are more geared to­wards pro­mot­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive aca­demic re­search and are in­tended to at­tract com­pa­nies with money.

Re­cently, the UK govern­ment an­nounced the launch of a new Seafood In­no­va­tion Fund (SIF) and Stephen Kerr, MP for Stir­ling, sug­gested that some of this new money should be in­vested in the Univer­sity of Stir­ling as it al­ready has aquacultur­e ex­per­tise.

How­ever, we also know of an­other small com­pany hop­ing to ap­ply to SIF for help. This com­pany seem­ingly must com­pete against uni­ver­si­ties, in­no­va­tion cen­tres and re­search or­gan­i­sa­tions for this fund­ing, and thus its chances of tak­ing the project for­ward are min­i­mal.

The odds are al­ways stacked against the small in­no­va­tors, sim­ply be­cause while their ideas are good, they don’t have the nec­es­sary ex­pe­ri­ence to ef­fec­tively en­ter the ap­pli­ca­tion process.

It might be help­ful if some of the ex­ist­ing ex­per­tise of big or­gan­i­sa­tions could be redi­rected to help small com­pa­nies suc­ceed in the com­pe­ti­tion process.

Help with aquacultur­e re­search used to be avail­able through the Scot­tish Aquacultur­e Re­search Fo­rum (SARF).

This now de­funct ini­tia­tive was partly funded by mem­ber or­gan­i­sa­tions, but the prob­lem was that in­de­pen­dent com­pa­nies were un­able to ap­ply di­rectly for help.

It seems to me that while new de­vel­op­ments for aquacultur­e are com­ing on stream all the time, there are some ideas that sim­ply can­not get off the draw­ing board be­cause the proper guid­ance and fund­ing is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to ac­cess, even if it were avail­able.

Per­haps it is time for a new al­ter­na­tive ini­tia­tive to help pro­mote and safe­guard the fu­ture of the in­dus­try.

I would like to see a new in­no­va­tion fund es­tab­lished by the in­dus­try it­self- af­ter all, any in­no­va­tions will ben­e­fit all.

I have heard of small busi­nesses ap­proach­ing

in­di­vid­ual farm­ing com­pa­nies to ask for help, only to be told that they would ex­pect ex­clu­siv­ity. This is un­der­stand­able but, at the same time, it is rather re­stric­tive for what is a small in­dus­try.

Farm­ing com­pa­nies should con­trib­ute to a fund which could be ad­min­is­tered by a small team from within the in­dus­try, who would assess the vi­a­bil­ity of any pro­pos­als.

How­ever, it is not all about money; the fund could also link up young com­pa­nies with men­tors who have had ex­pe­ri­ence of the in­no­va­tion and de­vel­op­ment process, to en­sure that the new idea is re­alised. The in­dus­try has an in­ter­est in safe­guard­ing ac­cess to the best in­no­va­tions and tech­nol­ogy but of­ten there are too many ob­sta­cles to over­come to al­low the new de­vel­op­ment to come to mar­ket. An in­dus­try fund and men­tor­ing ser­vice might help this ac­tu­ally hap­pen.

“The odds are al­ways stacked against in­no­va­tors” the small

THERE are more trout prod­ucts for pets than there are for hu­mans, said Dr Mar­tin Jaffa, who had been asked to give a pos­i­tive anal­y­sis of mar­ket trends for trout, and other seafood.

He said there had been a huge de­cline in fish con­sump­tion at home in the past 10 years – down 35 grams per per­son per week, which was equiv­a­lent to thir­teen 140 gram por­tions per per­son every year in the UK, ac­cord­ing to De­fra sta­tis­tics.

‘Whole gen­er­a­tions no longer eat fish and if you don’t eat fish your chil­dren won’t eat fish be­cause you’re not bring­ing it into the house. ‘I strug­gle to be pos­i­tive about it, I’ve been say­ing this for 10 years.’ Jaffa, Fish Farmer colum­nist and fish­eries con­sul­tant, who writes a weekly blog on the web­site Cal­lan­der McDow­ell, said the trend in the big su­per­mar­kets was to close down fish coun­ters al­to­gether, or to only keep them open part time. ‘The op­por­tu­ni­ties to sell fish are re­duc­ing.’ Al­though some 94 per cent of shop­pers said they have an in­ter­est in health, and 88 per cent are ac­tively try­ing to im­prove their diet (ac­cord­ing to re­search by IGD), Jaffa was wary of health be­ing a con­sumer driver.

He pointed to KFC, which an­nounced re­cently that its healthy fast food op­tion had been dropped from menus be­cause no one bought it.

‘Peo­ple will eat fish for health rea­sons but it won’t be the main pri­or­ity; they buy fish be­cause they like it.’

The prob­lem was that fewer and fewer peo­ple do like it. The re­port by IGD found that they think fish is ‘scary’, they don’t like the way it looks or smells. And they ‘fear’ it, be­cause they don’t know how to cook it.

Su­per­mar­kets have a role to play in in­creas­ing con­sump­tion of seafood, but they are go­ing about it the wrong way, ar­gued Jaffa.

‘I don’t have a dog so I’m never go­ing to go down the pet food aisle…If I don’t buy fish I’ll never go to a fish counter and I’ll never see fish.’

Con­tin­ued next page

“I don’t have a dog so I’m never go­ing to go down the pet food aisle”

Seafish data on chilled species has shown that trout sales value and vol­ume have both de­creased. This is be­cause the prod­ucts are not on peo­ple’s radar.

There were good prod­ucts on the mar­ket – Jaffa cited Asda’s mi­crowave trout fil­lets in Thai green sauce, which cost £3.50.

‘It is very easy to pre­pare and doesn’t taste bad…one of the best in­ven­tions on the fish mar­ket. But it is sadly no more.’

The re­al­ity is that peo­ple who do go for chilled fish aren’t in­ter­ested in fish with sauce, so this prod­uct – stocked with other fish - is in the wrong place, it should be with other sauce [prod­ucts] or pro­teins.

‘With th­ese prod­ucts, you are try­ing to at­tract con­sumers who don’t want to touch fish. No­body who sees it wants to buy it.’

The Asda range had cod, haddock, trout and sal­mon when it was launched and now just sal­mon is left.

Jaffa said seafood had to be brought to the cus­tomer. Asda had one pro­mo­tion where fish was at the en­trance to the store – ‘where you least ex­pect it’ - along­side other spe­cial of­fers on fruit and veg­eta­bles.

And Marks and Spencer has a pro­mo­tion where it takes fish out of the fish counter and puts it with other pro­tein, such as chicken or beef.

But su­per­mar­kets are not nec­es­sar­ily that in­ter­ested in cre­at­ing new im­ages about fish; most of them would be happy to get rid of their fish coun­ters, be­cause they are very waste­ful, said Jaffa.

Trout seems to sell bet­ter in stores like Marks & Spencer and Waitrose and this is the type of store on which the trout in­dus­try should fo­cus ex­pand­ing sales.

Jaffa also said the trend to­wards smaller, con­ve­nience Tesco Met­ros or Co-ops re­duced fur­ther the range of fish on of­fer.

‘We have lost a whole group of con­sumers who are not eat­ing fish at home and are not likely to, and we as a sec­tor need to start again from scratch,’ he con­cluded.

Above: The in­dus­try has an in­ter­est in safe­guard­ing ac­cess to the best in­no­va­tions

Above Dy­ing breedBooth­s fish counter in Manch­ester

Left: Su­per­mar­kets have a role to play in fish pro­mo­tion

Top: French fish counter

Mid­dle: Fewer op­por­tu­ni­ties to sell fish

Left: Re­tail­ers should put fish with other pro­teins

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