New export statistics, published today by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), show that exports of Scottish salmon fell by 23 per cent in 2020 to 72,155 tonnes – down from 94,315 tonnes the previous year.
The value of whole, fresh exports dropped to £451 million, from £619 million in 2019.
The impact of the pandemic, which shut food service outlets around the world and greatly restricted air transport, hit distant markets the hardest.
The value of Scottish salmon sales was down by 76 percent in China and 42 percent in the US.
As sales dropped in the more distant markets, Scotland’s salmon producers turned more to Europe. Exports of Scottish salmon to the EU became more important in 2020, accounting for 69 per cent of sales in volume (50,000 tonnes) and 64 per cent in value (£288 million) terms, an increase from 56 per cent and 52 per cent in 2019 respectively.
Tavish Scott, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, said producers were confident exports would revive as markets opened up and that 2021 would be a good year for the sector.
A harsh blow from Brexit
But he warned today that the greater emphasis on Europe has now left producers even more vulnerable to the problems caused by Brexit.
Scott said the pandemic, followed by the Brexit end-of-transition change, had been a hard for the sector. “This has been a double whammy,” he said.
“The last year has been a bruising time for the Scottish salmon sector, as these new figures show. Our producers have battled really hard to get salmon to their customers around the world, against really strong headwinds.
“It is to their credit that they have managed to get so much salmon to their global customers and the switch to EU trade was a good way of offsetting the difficulties experienced elsewhere.
“But now that the UK has left the EU and the full implications of Brexit are clear, our members are suffering from the burden of excessive bureaucracy and red tape, which is making it difficult for them to compete in the European market.
“That is why we appealed to both the UK and Scottish governments to come together with experts from across our sector and supply chain, to find ways of streamlining the red tape and giving our members the certainty of getting fish to the EU markets on time.”
Celine Kimpflin, head of markets at Scottish Sea Farms, said the first week of January, when Brexit’s new rules kicked in, had been an “utter disaster” for salmon exporters.
She said: “We knew it was going to be difficult, but we didn’t expect it to be this difficult. I don’t think as a country we were that well prepared in terms of bureaucracy.”
Kimpflin said health certificates which should take half an hour to complete sometimes took as long as 10 hours to process.
Scottish Sea Farms normally exports around 200 tonnes of salmon to the EU a week, but these exports have been reduced to half of that figure.
Kimpflin welcomed the creation of the government taskforce which met today for the first time and is designed to help streamline the system.
But she said an even better solution would be to invite EU officials to Scotland and show them how the salmon sector operates.
“We need to have a dialogue, work out how we can make the export process more streamlined and give them confidence to import our product.
“At the end of the day though, we have good relationships with our customers built up over the years and it is not the company they have a problem with. That gives me real hope.”