fishing boats

Some Scottish fish processing plants are struggling to source enough fish due to labour shortages in the sector, MPs have heard.

Giving evidence today to the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee’s inquiry into the impact of Brexit on fisheries, Jimmy Buchan, business manager for industry body the Scottish Seafood Association, warned the sector was already facing huge difficulties over labour shortages.

“We’re already finding it hard to recruit, even through agencies,” Buchan said, adding that labour shortages were present on fishing boats, in processing plants and further down the supply chain in packaging, transport and logistics.

On potential opportunities for the seafood sector post-Brexit, Buchan told MPs “if the opportunity is there, businesses will find the markets”, but he cautioned the sector needed access to “raw materials” in the form of fish and labour.

“We have seen restrictions of EU people presenting for work. Our members depend on European staff for about 70% of their workforce,” he added, noting there were currently “huge problems” in attracting people to work on fishing crews in particular.

As a result, “one of our factories in Prestwick is now struggling to get enough raw material”, Buchan said. “We’re seeing some crews looking further afield and switching to Philippine crews, but due to border control restrictions they then have to go further offshore, which becomes more dangerous.”

Buchan also took issue with the sentiment voiced by some politicians that the fisheries sector could be boosted by better training of UK residents, and slammed comments by Scottish fisheries secretary Fergus Ewing on the matter.

“Where are these people? If they were there we would be training them. We must open the market to get the right people into the sector. If we’re going to compete with the world after Brexit we need access to the world’s people,” he urged, while calling on government to also help ensure careers in the fishing industry were more attractive to local people.

“For two decades the seafood sector has been an industry in contraction, but we now have improving fish stocks, infrastructure and new boats. We will miss a trick if we can’t attract enough people.”

The committee also heard from Andrew Kuyk, director general of the PTF and UK Seafood Industry Alliance, who warned the UK seafood sector would face significant obstacles in finding new markets for fresh fish if the UK failed to forge a trade deal with the EU.

“We export 80% of our fish to the EU. In the event of a hard Brexit it would be very difficult to find new markets for what is mainly perishable raw or live fish.”