Seafish’s latest UK seafood sector review shows how the impacts of Covid-19 and Brexit have been felt across the supply chain.

The latest report from the public body that supports the UK seafood industry covers the period of January to March 2021. According to the report, it was a period of uncertainty and volatility for many UK seafood businesses as Covid-19 infections increased and restrictions remained. New requirements to trade with the EU also came into effect.

However, strong growth in the fish and chip shop sector has seen trade return to pre-pandemic levels.

Some of the major findings include:

  • Many exporting businesses experienced major disruptions in January and February, with increased transit time and cost still being an issue to the end of March
  • Shellfish exporters saw the greatest disruption, with live bivalve mollusc producers in class B and C waters unable to sell into EU markets
  • Processing businesses faced a range of supply and demand constraints
  • Many UK businesses reliant on seafood imports did not face significant sourcing issues, having stockpiled frozen material in 2020
  • Covid-19 continued to impact the workforce, but increased asymptomatic testing helped control the spread of the virus in processing environments
  • The catching sector was affected by depressed markets, including those targeting shellfish species
  • Aquaculture businesses continued to deal with the impacts of disruptions in production cycles that began in early 2020.

In retail, sales dropped back year-on-year from the unprecedented levels seen in March 2020 but remained strong, continuing to outperform sales in recent years. The report also stated that foodservice businesses were limited to takeaway and delivery trade because of Covid-19 lockdowns, but fish and chip shops had recovered strongly.

Commenting on the report Aoife Martin, director of operations at Seafish, said that adjusting to a new trading environment had caused major difficulties to many seafood businesses in the UK. She said: “Many businesses have faced disruption on a lesser scale, such as getting to grips with new paperwork requirements as well as experiencing logistical issues and delays.

“On top of this the industry has continued to deal with the challenges of operating during a global pandemic. While to some extent the disruptions caused by Covid-19 have become ‘the norm’, the ongoing impact on businesses across the sector should not be underestimated.

“However, the continuing strong performance of seafood in retail and the remarkable recovery of the fish and chip sector are positive signs. Businesses throughout the seafood supply chain are hopeful that domestic markets will continue to improve as restrictions further reduce.”