Biggest importer's hard Brexit concern on fresh salmon supply

By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 29 Jan 2019

The movement of fresh salmon is an immediate hard-Brexit concern, the managing director of seafood giant Seachill has told a business audience, with less than 60 days to go until the deadline.

Simon Smith, at the helm of the company responsible for the UK’s most regularly bought seafood from supermarkets – Tesco’s two salmon portions – is confident a way will be found to ensure smooth transit of the sought after dish, but underlined the risk if not.

It comes as the sector is already squeezed on currency inflation.

Speaking at a special lunch organised by the Hull and Humber Chamber of Commerce, he said: “We are the biggest importer of salmon in the UK; 25 per cent of Norwegian fish imports are coming in to us. Salmon is a major part of the Grimsby seafood industry. It comes to us by truck, fresh, it takes four days and travels through four European countries to come to us.

MORE: How being based solely in Grimsby is great for Seachill

“A big concern is a hold up at ports. We are talking about a time-critical product, and it is not practical to hold large stocks of it, because it is fresh and has a shelf life. It is a concern, but we think a way will be found. Our view is a lot of people are working on alternative ways.”

As reported, extra ferries are being lined up between Immingham, Germany and Holland, with DFDS winning a £42 million government contract, which could provide a solution.

When it comes to whitefish, mostly sourced from Iceland, and again Norway - both European Economic Area member countries, but not in the EU - the immediacy isn’t the problem, but the long term. He said Grimsby’s cold storage concentration was well positioned for any temporary supply blips.

“Our expertise is refreshing from frozen,” Mr Smith said. “Our supplies are frozen within an hour of the fish being caught. We have long stocks of that, so it is not as immediate a pressure.”

MORE: Could Tesco's fish counter cull concern Grimsby's suppliers of skills and seafood? 

Asked about British vessels landing, with ‘taking back control of waters’ a strong Leave message in the run-up to the 2016 EU Referendum which saw a mini flotilla on the Humber and the Thames, he said meeting current supply needs would be a decade away.

“It would be lovely to see, but the danger in the intervening time is if importing becomes so expensive, that it passes off people’s plates and we get out of the habit. Once you are out of the habit it is gone. It would be foolhardy to think we can solve Brexit in a year. A decent trawler is £40 million - for one. We would have a whole industry to set up, build and commission, so that’s going to be 10 or 15 years before you can establish a fleet.”

Recent years have already seen the price of fish “rocket” compared to other proteins such as red meat and poultry. “The primary factor in this is currency,” Mr Smith said. “Most land-based protein in the UK is British or Irish, most fish is imported. We import what we eat and export what we catch, and there is very little appetite from UK customers to eat what we catch in the UK.

“Unsurprisingly, with the change in the exchange rates, we have seen massive inflation. We have a fantastic story of fish growing, being healthy and indulgent, government wanting us to eat more of it, and this could kill that momentum, and that’s what I’m most worried about right now.”

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