COVID 19 – Letter of Support for the Aquaculture Industry
I am acutely aware of the significant challenges you face in your day-to-day lives just now.
So, first of all, I want to thank you for keeping the supply lines open, for making sure that the Scottish salmon, trout and shellfish reared around our coasts has been grown, harvested, packaged, shipped and delivered to customers all across the country every single day, despite the barriers this crisis has placed in your way.
All of you have played a part: from the fish farmers to the hauliers, from the vets to the processors and from the divers to the wellboat operators and entire supply chain – 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.
I know there has been some confusion about what constitutes an essential business during this time of crisis.
The Scottish Government’s view is clear: food is part of our national critical infrastructure and businesses like yours can continue to operate, but only if you adhere strictly to the guidance in place for social distancing and abide by strict health and safety guidelines. This is the responsibility of employers, not employees. And I would encourage employers to also apply the fair work principles we published and keep talking to employees to address concerns and give them reassurance. The new guidance from Food Standards Scotland for food processing might also be helpful in this regard.
Our top priority will always be to protect the health and wellbeing of the Scottish population: we will do everything possible to protect people’s lives and keep our people safe. Companies in the food production, supply and distribution sector can continue to operate and keep our country fed, but only if they adhere to the new rules.
We have already put in place a range of measures to support businesses and I would encourage businesses to use those if they are needed. But I am deeply aware of the difficulties smaller business are now facing with industry leaders advising UK funds could come too late. We will continue to press the UK Government for earlier release of funds and meantime will consider what else we can do in Scotland to support you. I would strongly encourage employers not to lay off staff but to use the Job Retention Scheme where appropriate.
Beyond finance, we are working with key aquaculture representatives to ensure the entire sector remains viable and that there will continue to be highly skilled and well paid jobs once this pandemic ends. Measures we are taking include looking at how we can protect our key workers, managing aquaculture stock by, for example, enabling fish to stay longer in the water whilst ensuring their health and welfare are maintained; and, looking further ahead, working to maintain domestic demand and re-establishing exports to critical overseas markets.
I hope this reassures that I and the Scottish Government recognises that you are doing an extremely important job and we will do what we can to support you to continue playing your key role in the supply of food in the weeks and months ahead. All we ask in return is that all businesses and employers change their practices where needed to adhere to the social distancing guidance to keep everyone working in aquaculture safe, to help protect lives, protect the NHS and stop the spread of the virus.