Official export statistics published by HMRC show that the Scottish salmon farming sector reacted swiftly to the impact of coronavirus as it began to spread through Asia and into Europe.

The HMRC figures for exports in February 2020 show a drop of 2,700 tonnes compared to the same month last year.  Valued at £32 million, this represented a decline of 32 per cent on February 2019.

Exports to Asia accounted for the majority of the decline with volumes only just exceeding 200 tonnes in February, down by 1,360 tonnes (-87 per cent) compared with year earlier figures. As a result, exports to Asia accounted for only around 4 per cent of total volumes and 5 per cent of value where they previously accounted for around 25 per cent of each - as distribution logistics became more complex and food service and consumer demand fell as the coronavirus spread. 

However, the Scottish salmon sector shifted export sales from Asian markets to Europe achieving a boost in market share, rising to 59 per cent and 55 per cent for volume and value respectively.   Some additional value was also found in European markets – 3 per cent – despite volumes being down 10 per cent.

James Park, Head of Insights for Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation said:

“The coronavirus pandemic has, predictably, seen the impact on exports mirroring the geographic spread of the virus.  With the experience and expertise in exporting fresh Scottish salmon globally to more than 50 countries, companies have been able to manage January and February fairly well. 

“However, as the pandemic lockdowns hit major European markets and the US, demand has fallen sharply in the important food service and restaurant sectors.  Retail demand has correspondingly risen as consumers look for healthy products which are versatile and convenient.

“The importance of the UK domestic market continues to be reinforced.  The UK market has always been the bedrock of Scottish salmon sales and in spite of huge exports as Scotland’s and the UK’s largest food export, the home market is central to the sector’s continuing success.

“Companies have swiftly adopted safety measures to protect workers on farms and in processing.  Public health and keeping the workforce safe are our absolute priorities, but the sector is also working hard to sustain a supply of fresh salmon moving to the supermarkets across the UK.” 

The efforts of the salmon farming sector and the importance of the Scottish salmon were highlighted in a tribute from Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing.

He said:

“Everybody involved in Scottish aquaculture has shown how important they are, continuing to deliver more than one million healthy meals to people throughout Scotland and the UK, every single day.”

As the salmon sector acknowledges, the more significant impact on exports will become clearer when the statistics for the first quarter are reported in mid-May.  Ahead of that, companies in Scotland are exploring opportunities for new routes to market emerging from the coronavirus lockdown such as China and how to adapt products and distribution for overseas and domestic markets. 

James Park said:

“As the lockdown continues in the UK and global supply chains are restricted, maintaining and developing the supply of fresh, healthy salmon domestically provides a strong commercial base and plays a major role in the UK’s food security.

“Regaining share in recovering markets and capitalising on new opportunities will be a central focus in the second quarter.”

NOTE: The statistics are sourced from the HMRC Business and Trade Statistics and were published on 9th April 2020.

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