The marketing organisation said that with many international markets closed off because of Covid-19, and the UK food service sector largely shut down, the seafood sector is relying on retail for survival. But most of the fresh fish counters in major multiple retailers have been closed for weeks.
Only Morrisons has re-opened its fresh counters in recent days, in a move to support the meat and fish sectors.
In the letter sent to the CEOs of Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, Donna Fordyce, head of Seafood Scotland, said it was “imperative” that fish counters are re-opened to allow consumers access to fresh seafood from the domestic market.
Both aquaculture and the wild catch sector have been affected by the closure of fish counters, with portion trout farmers facing the prospect of culling fish because their route to market has disappeared.
The fishing sector, which annually lands around 450,000 tonnes of sea fish and shellfish from around 2,000 vessels, has seen an estimated 60% drop in demand, leading to fishing families and the wider communities that rely on the sector facing economic hardship, said Seafood Scotland.
The Scottish government has set up a £3 million emergency fund to help shellfish and trout farmers get through the Covid-19 lockdown period, as well as sea fisheries hardship funds for operators of vessels under and over 12 metres.
Pre-Covid-19, 80% of Scottish seafood and shellfish was exported, with the remaining 20% destined for UK food service and retail. The sector is now completely reliant on the UK market, and even here the food service sector is operating at minimal levels due to the UK lockdown.
This means supermarkets and some independents are now at the front line of supplying the nation with locally caught or produced seafood.
Supermarkets are key
Fordyce said: “Once the lockdown was implemented many of the main multiples closed their fish counters – effectively blocking a significant part of our domestic market.
“We understand why this happened – retail was under enormous pressure at the time, and social distancing felt like a barrier.
“However, we believe that the operational pressure has eased slightly as retailers and consumers alike become more used to working around social distancing in supermarkets. Morrisons has already proved it can be done.
“It’s time for consumers to eat local, eat Scottish. We get to eat our own high quality, delicious, healthy, and sustainable seafood, so that the Scottish coastal communities can continue to operate, albeit at reduced capacity. The supermarkets are key to making this happen.”
Tesco and Sainsbury’s closed their wet fish counters in March so they could redeploy staff to other areas where they were needed. Asda had already announced closure of its wet fish counters in January, before Covid-19 became an issue in Europe, to focus more on packaged fish products.