Loch Fyne Oysters boss fears for future as EU workers stay at home because of Brexit

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Posted by Geoff Bishop.

Written by Kevin Scott.

THE boss of one of Scotland’s best known seafood companies has outlined his fears for the business post-Brexit after one third of staff expected to arrive from the continent in last year’s peak season didn’t turn up.

Cameron Brown has said the UK’s divorce from the European Union was already “presenting many challenges” to Loch Fyne Oysters.

And he called for clarity from the UK government on its plans for future trade deals and labour movement.

Loch Fyne Oysters, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, turns over £14 million, has doubled its international sales in the last two years, and has invested in increasing capacity in order to double sales of its smoked goods, but Mr Brown said the simple fact was that the temporary workforce required by the business does not exist locally.

“Brexit is already presenting major challenges to staff recruitment,” he said. “Around 30 per cent of our 125 strong staff based at Loch Fyne are seasonal workers from Europe and this year a third of them didn’t come during our peak manufacturing period between October and December. That meant we had to top up with agency staff and overtime which cost the business substantially in fees. My fear is that next year it could be even worse.”

The comments come after it emerged fruit and vegetables have been left to rot in fields across Scotland because of the fall in workers coming from the EU.

Thousands of tonnes of produce have been dumped because local labour is not sufficient, a problem also facing Loch Fyne.

Mr Brown added: “While we strive to employ local people wherever possible, the challenge is that this kind of temporary workforce simply doesn’t exist where we are based.”

The business was established in 1978 when local landowner Johnny Noble and marine biologist Andy Lane established an oyster farm on a small strip of Loch Fyne.

Since then it has grown into an international food producer, selling 2.5 million oysters per year as well as 400 tonnes of mussels and nearly 1,000 tonnes of smoked salmon.

Mussel production is set to expand from 430 tonnes to 1,000 tonnes by 2021.

“We are part of the global success story that is Scottish seafood. However, as we look forward to the next four decades, the uncertainties around Brexit are presenting many challenges to the industry,” said Mr Brown.

He said that while the weak pound has helped the company to growth in Europe, there were too many unknowns to feel confident.

“We don’t know what, if any, tariffs will be placed on us next year and whether this will constrain our trade in Europe,” he said.

Another aspect of Brexit which concerns Mr Brown is the possibility of food standards being “diluted” as the UK breaks away from Europe.

“European food standards are very strict in order to ensure safety and allergen control but I am extremely concerned that they could be diluted as part of trade deals with non-EU countries,” he said. “Thankfully, Food Standards Scotland is working hard to keep our labelling regulations harmonised with Europe but there remain many ‘ifs and buts’.”

Mr Brown said the demand for Scottish oysters was increasing in international markets, but the industry needed to remain competitive with other producer countries to retain its place in international markets.

This has led the group to expand its range to include scallops, lobsters, langoustine and white fish, while targeting new markets outside the EU such as China, North America and Jamaica.

“But [these plans] will not instantly replace the volume of seafood we are selling within the European Union,” said Mr Brown. “We need the government to provide clarity on the nature of any future trade deal, tariffs and food labelling.”