Restrictions and trade challenges in late 2020 explored in latest Covid-19 impact review

Third report in our series focuses on the impacts of the pandemic on the UK’s seafood supply chain from October to December 2020.

We've published our latest review exploring how the impacts of Covid-19 have been felt across the UK’s seafood supply chain. It combines real-time insights from seafood businesses with quantitative data. This report includes the first publication of results from our 2020 survey of the UK fishing fleet. We aim 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, our Director of Operations, 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.
Fish being prepared in food service
Fish being prepared in food service

What's covered in the review?

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.

Insight from across the seafood supply chain

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.

Read or download the review

About our Covid-19 impact reviews

This is third in a series of reviews on the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on the UK seafood sector. We have now produced Covid-19 impact reports covering the whole of 2020

The first report in the series 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.

The second report covered July to September 2020. It focused on how the seafood industry adapted to ‘new normal’ during summer and early autumn as restrictions eased before increasing again, allowing hospitality to reopen for a period.

We have now produced Covid-19 impact reports covering the whole of 2020. 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.

We plan to continue to report on the major impacts on the seafood sector throughout 2021.