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The Scottish Government is using EMFF money to help fish and shellfish farmers meet freezing costs.
The Scottish Government is using EMFF money to help fish and shellfish farmers meet freezing costs.

Scottish finfish and shellfish farmers affected by the collapse of export markets due to Covid-19 can now apply to a new £1.25 million fund to cover the costs of maintaining unsold stock.

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The Scottish Government scheme, funded by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), compensates businesses for the cost of transporting, freezing and storing salmon, trout and shellfish until the end of 2020. 

Storage is relatively cheap, at between £5-£10 per tonne for 10 weeks, but the initial blast freezing can cost up to £300 per tonne.   

Fergus Ewing:
Fergus Ewing: "We want to support the sector."

Covering costs

Rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said the funding means businesses will be able to cover some of the additional costs they have faced trying to preserve stock during the pandemic.

“Farmed salmon is Scotland’s most important food product and valuable food export and we want to support the sector through these challenging times,” said Ewing.

Julie Hesketh-Laird, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO), said salmon farmers had been able to find new markets for some of their stock but there was still a need for some of them for temporary storage, until overseas markets start to normalise again.

“We are delighted that the Scottish Government has managed to access European funds to help with this process,” said Hesketh-Laird.

Talks with government

SSPO strategic engagement director Hamish Macdonell said the organisation had been talking with the Scottish Government about the potential for such a scheme for the past six to eight weeks, “and we’re very happy it has come to fruition”.

In late March, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) gave salmon and trout farmers temporary dispensation to exceed biomass limits if they were forced to delay harvests because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

This allowed fish farmers to keep fish in the water when there was no market for them, but that extra time was limited by biology. Many fish have now reached a size where they must be harvested, and sites must also be emptied to allow for the next generation of smolts to be stocked.

It is understood that cold storage capacity is available at facilities in the north east that primarily store whitefish, and at distribution depots at Larkhall and Bellshill in the Central Belt.

Details of how to apply for the storage aid scheme can be found here.

Other funds

The fund is one of several set up to help the seafood industry cope with the economic effects of Covid-19.

In April the Scottish Government announced a £10m fund for seafood processors, followed by a £3m fund to offer hardship payments of up to £27,000 to trout and shellfish farmers. 

The salmon sector was able to partly offset a slump in exports and food service sales with increased demand from the UK retail sector, but this boost didn’t apply to trout or shellfish, and in fact a decision by retailers to offer fewer product lines and to close wet fish counters pushed trout out of many stores.

Governments criticised

The use of EMFF money for the aquaculture storage fund announced today should please the Federation of European Aquaculture Producers (FEAP), which has criticised EU states for their failure to divert underused EMFF cash to help aquaculture companies survive the Covid crisis.

“The EMFF, planned to run between 2014 and 2020 and with a budget of €6.5 billion, has been underused from its beginning for several causes and more than €1 billion remain today unspent,” stated FEAP on June 2.

It pointed out that the European Commission had amended EMFF rules to allow this happen, but that governments were showing “very little creativity and boldness”.

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