Latest Covid-19 impact review shows how seafood industry adapted to ‘new normal’ during summer — Seafish

Latest Covid-19 impact review shows how seafood industry adapted to ‘new normal’ during summer

Focus on how UK seafood supply chain continued to operate from July to September 2020 in second of our series of sector assessments.

We've published the second in a series of reviews showing how the impacts of Covid-19 have been felt across the whole of the seafood supply chain in the UK. Our latest report focuses on July to September 2020. It explores how the UK’s seafood sector faced the challenges of the global pandemic during this period.

Hazel Curtis, our Director of Corporate Relations said:

Having weathered the initial impacts of Covid-19 on local and global trade, the people operating the UK seafood supply chain learned to live and work within the “new normal” of a global pandemic over the summer. In this review we once again combine quantitative data from across the sector with real-time intelligence from our stakeholders to describe and explain the challenges faced and how people adapted their businesses in response. We want to help our industry and the wider world make sense of the impacts experienced from a ‘whole of supply chain’ perspective.
Photo showing prawns being processed in a factory
Worker in seafood processing factory sorting shellfish

What's covered in the review?

The review looks at how seafood supply, production, distribution and markets were affected by the global pandemic during July to September 2020. In this period, bookended by restrictions first easing and then ramping up again, key impacts highlighted in the review include:

  • Foodservice demand increased as restrictions eased in the UK and Europe and consumers had the opportunity and confidence to eat meals out of home again.
  • The return of food service saw exports flow to Europe and imports recover slightly.
  • Demersal and shellfish export value was higher than in previous months, though still well below the same period in 2019.
  • Retail sales dropped back on previous months, but remained above 2019 levels.
  • Transport and logistics systems ran more smoothly than in the spring and fish auctions adjusted to continued price volatility and demand uncertainty.
  • Most processing businesses were back online by August, having made adaptations to ensure safe working while meeting ever-changing demand.
  • Some aquaculture businesses struggled with poor demand while others capitalised on direct sales to see them through this period.
  • Virtual training courses gained popularity and some face to face safety training for fishing crew was possible in small groups.
  • Towards the end of the period restrictions in Europe and the UK increased again, bringing renewed uncertainty.

The review includes the first publication of final data from our 2020 survey of the UK seafood processing sector. It also features insights from businesses throughout the UK seafood supply chain highlighting the real impacts experienced by individual seafood businesses.

To reopen or scale up capacity, processing businesses made major adaptations to become Covid-safe workspaces. Commenting on how they met these challenges Paul Treadgold, Health and Safety Officer at Flatfish Ltd, said:

We have managed the risks of Covid-19 in the factory with a number of control measures. These included social distancing on our production lines and work areas, additional PPE, enhanced hygiene protocols, an internal track and trace system, stricter procedures for visitors to the factory, and additional staff communications and discussion forums to support employees. 

“We have maintained these controls at the same level since introducing them in March, regularly reviewing and improving controls day by day. Though we have been able to adapt successfully, the additional equipment, cleaning staff and staff downtime during team talks have come at an additional financial cost to the business.

The report also looks at the impacts of the return of consumers to hospitality and the impact of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme. The re-emergence of foodservice, while short-lived, had knock-on benefits for the shellfish processing and catching sectors as cold stores cleared and demand for raw material returned. Daniel Whittle, Managing Director of Whitby Seafoods, explained:

The UK Government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme helped a lot. It resulted in a significant increase in foodservice demand for scampi over the summer, which helped to clear stocks that had built up during the first lockdown. The impact of the high retail demand during lockdown, and the high demand seen in August has allowed us to continue buying raw material, which has meant the prawn boats could keep fishing.

The topic of direct sales to consumers is also revisited in the review. Adopted by many businesses from across the supply chain, it is the element of the industry’s response to the pandemic that has been given most attention by the mainstream media.

The review notes that many businesses who considered direct sales as a ‘lifeline’ to allow them to continue operating during the challenging lockdown period have moved out of direct sales again as their former supply chains returned. However, some businesses throughout the sector saw long-term potential for direct sales as part of their offering. This led to investment in this area and recruitment of new staff to maintain their new (or newly expanded) direct sales operations alongside a return to traditional markets.

About our Covid-19 impact reviews

The publication is the second in a series of reviews on the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on the UK seafood sector.

The first report in the series, released in September, looked at the period from January to June 2020. It charted the impacts of coronavirus on the UK seafood supply chain from the early impacts on international trade following the first cases overseas; through national lockdown, retail boom and hospitality closures; to the easing of restrictions as summer began.

We plans to release its next report, focusing on October to December 2020, in March 2021. This will feature data collected as part of our annual survey of the UK fishing fleet.

Our impact assessment reports are produced to help seafood businesses, organisations and government understand what is happening in the seafood industry. By bringing together and analysing different sets of data we can explore how various parts of the seafood sector have been affected, and how these changes have in turn been felt along the seafood supply chain.

Read or download the review

Get in touch

For further information about our Covid-19 impact assessments contact

Ana Witteveen
0131 524 8659
07815 428 554