The Press and Journal (Inverness, Highlands, and Islands) : 2019-11-18

NEWS : 75 : 11

NEWS

11 news THE PRESS AND JOURNAL November 2019 future for our seafood members and one we are monitoring very closely.” Mr Buchan has lobbied hard over the past year or so for north-east processors, who have faced soaring business rates. He has also bemoaned the frustratin­g sight of fish and other seafood landed at north-east ports being trucked south for processing in factories in England or abroad. “I have challenged the Scottish Government on business rates, which is restrictin­g growth opportunit­ies,” he said, adding: “Although ministers have been sympatheti­c to my plea, to date they have not offered any alternativ­e schemes or incentives to help businesses overcome this hurdle. “EU state aid rules are very prescripti­ve about how it (the Scottish Government) can assist the sector. “Larger companies – the biggest employers – have no access to funding as the current rules dictate. “High operationa­l costs, squeezed margins, limited funding, access to raw material, political uncertaint­y in the current climate and further uncertaint­y over a further Scottish independen­ce referendum are all business risks restrictin­g investment and growth.” Calling on politician­s of all parties to “put their politics aside and look at the opportunit­ies that this industry can have”, Mr Buchan said: “Seafood catching-processing is one of Scotland’s best assets. of these foreign workers – and their employers – over their right to remain in Britain after Brexit. Business rates, post-Brexit exports, workforce recruitmen­t and training are just some of the other headaches confrontin­g SSA members – about 70 of them at the last count – on a daily basis. Mr Buchan said: “The sector has many hurdles that it is attempting to overcome. Some will be industry led and others will have to be politicall­y led. “The catching sector is generally in a good place, which is great for investing in its own future. “Innovation and good economics are a great driver in that respect, and we need the same level of enthusiasm in the processing sector. “Onshore processing has a whole different set of hurdles to overcome and the main one is profitabil­ity. “Fish-raw material costs are at an all time high, squeezing margins in the sector both in domestic and internatio­nal sales. “We trade fish globally – both importing and exporting – and, therefore, marketing is challengin­g. “Our members are in a very competitiv­e market, where operating costs in other countries are much less. “These costs along with access to raw material from proposed quota allocation­s will create significan­t challenges in the coming year. “This is a major concern for SSA “Rural Scottish communitie­s have a real opportunit­y to thrive like never before in a global market but only if there is political willingnes­s. “The processing sector has continued to contract or at best stagnate in the past two decades, and that is partly due to the lack of infrastruc­ture investment and incentives. “We have rich resources in our seas and a modern fleet of fishing vessels, with highly-skilled skippers and crews. “Now, we need to match that onshore in well thought through business initiative­s that will encourage businesses and our youth to build this industry up for the long-term benefits of the communitie­s it operates in.” The Scottish Government has already shown a willingnes­s to help the processing sector to look at its energy usage and costs. Public finance minister Kate Forbes pledged financial assistance for the SSA to lead on a two-year project to assess and guide the sector to improve on energy and water waste. Mr Buchan said: “We are currently working through a five company case study to look into ways improvemen­ts can be made. “This has been done in other protein producing sectors with positive outcomes, so we await further results on our pilot project.” Training is another area where good progress is being made towards securing the future of the sector. “We have been involved in running seafood preparedne­ss for new entrants, with three courses this year,” Mr Buchan said. “This has given students an introducti­on to the basics of what is required in training for a career in seafood. “There is more work and focus to go into this initiative, and this year has been a learning curve for SSA to improve and deliver a better programme for both students and employers. “Funding for this programme to continue will be key to its future success.” As an approved Seafish-Royal Environmen­tal Health Institute of Scotland training organisati­on, Peterhead-based SSA has delivered courses to more than 300 employees this year. Mr Buchan said: “That work will be ongoing as we collaborat­e with the sector to improve on employee training and up-skilling. “SSA is committed to continue this work stream as we look to become a seafood centre of excellence, not only in the north-east but right across the Scottish processing sector. “ Brexit has dominated the fishing industry this year and Mr Buchan has worked closely with fishing minister Fergus Ewing to prepare for the UK’s divorce from the European Union. He has also represente­d SSA in talks with the Department for Environmen­t, Food and Rural Affairs, Ministry for Transport and Scotland Office, making sure the voice of members “has been heard loud and clear and that we play an important role in the seafood supply chain”. Mr Buchan was one of the stars of BBC’s Trawlermen series from 2006-10. Until recently he was the proud owner of the Peterhead-registered white-fish trawler Amity II. It was sold to James Cowie, of Gardenstow­n, whose last vessel sank off the Fraserburg­h coast in August. Amity II’s new owner is now looking forward to his crew being able to fish again, after buying the 70ft prawn boat from Mr Buchan for an undisclose­d sum. Rural Scottish communitie­s have a real opportunit­y to thrive