Restrictions and trade challenges in late 2020 explored in latest Covid-19 impact review of UK seafood sector
Andrew Crook - NFFF President
March 22, 2021

New Seafish report looks at impacts of pandemic on UK seafood supply chain in October to December 2020

Seafish has published its latest review exploring how the impacts of Covid-19 have been felt across the UK’s seafood supply chain.

This is the third in a series of reports from the public body that supports the UK seafood industry. It combines real-time insights from seafood businesses with quantitative data. This report includes the first publication of results from Seafish’s 2020 survey of the UK fishing fleet. Seafish aims to give businesses, organisations and government a fuller understanding of how the impacts of Covid-19 have been felt along the seafood supply chain.

The latest report covers October to December 2020. During this time the sector had to cope with greater restrictions and increased challenges, particularly over the key Christmas period.

Aoife Martin, Director of Operations at Seafish, said:

“From Christmas foodservice closures to uncertainty around the UK’s trading relationship with the EU, the last months of 2020 were a challenging period for the UK seafood industry. Major disruption caused by border closures in Europe was a particularly hard end to the year for some businesses.

“In our latest review we look at how the impacts of Covid-19 were felt across the whole of the UK’s seafood supply chain. We also share stories from innovative businesses which successfully adapted to work in new operating and commercial environments.”

The review explores the whole of the supply chain. It analyses how seafood supply, production, distribution and markets were affected by the global pandemic from October to December 2020. Key impacts highlighted in the report include:

  • The foodservice sector struggled through this important sales period. Delivery and takeaway operations provided a lifeline to many businesses unable to open to diners.
  • Multiple retailers and independent fishmongers saw strong sales as they benefitted from foodservice closures.
  • Seafood businesses – in particular exporters – had to manage uncertainty around the UK’s future relationship with the EU on top of Covid-19 issues.
  • Seafood exports remained below the same period in 2019.
  • Direct sales continued to grow for many businesses that established themselves in this area earlier in the year.
  • Businesses successfully managed logistical challenges with supply and distribution until Covid-19 closed borders to Europe at the end of the year.
  • Processors relying on imported whitefish benefitted from lower raw material prices.
  • Larger processing businesses generally managed the impact of Covid-19 cases amongst staff without reducing production capacity.
  • Total seafood import volume was on par with the same period in 2019, while value was slightly down.
  • UK landings were low, and prices were supressed due to market uncertainty.
  • Aquaculture businesses faced challenges in managing uncertainty around Brexit and European border closures dashed hopes of a lucrative festive period.

The report includes insight from individual businesses throughout the seafood supply chain.

Increased restrictions at the end of 2020 meant that Christmas really was cancelled for foodservice businesses. John Lavery, owner of Fish City in Belfast, said:  

“The week between Christmas and New Year is usually one of our busiest of the year. We normally rely on this boost in sales to see us through the quieter months of January and February. Unfortunately, due to lockdown restrictions, we had to close on Christmas Eve after reopening for just over two weeks. As a result, our December sales were down 70% on normal trading.” 

Businesses engaging in direct sales coped well with returning restrictions. Many planned to continue with their new business models after the pandemic ends. Martin Yorwarth, owner of Yorwarth’s Fresh Fish in East Sussex said: 

“By the second lockdown in November, we were well prepared to keep the shop trading, with extra safety measures in place, and increase our direct delivery service. Now, our long-term plan is to continue with domestic markets both locally and across the UK, possibly expanding internationally in the future.” 

The new report is now available to read and download from Seafish’s website. A further report looking closely at the impacts of Covid-19 on the UK seafood processing sector is also now available. Seafish has now produced Covid-19 impact reports covering the whole of 2020. It plans to continue to report on the major impacts on the seafood sector throughout 2021.

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