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Grimsby port

The coastal town of Grimsby has processed salmon for many years but now it will be producing them too, as Vince McDonagh reports

Grimsby used to pride itself on being hailed the seafood capital of Europe.

But that crown slipped some time ago, partly as the result of Brexit but mainly because the town lost too many seafood businesses.

However, the nucleus of a once-powerful industry is still there and some companies are now doing extraordinarily well.

There are plans to revive the old fish dock area with a modern 160-room hotel and turn the former Edwardian ice house into a visitor centre.

Ian Lindley, Mayor NE Lincolnshire

But what looks like a real turning point in the town’s fortunes came last February when AquaCultured Seafood, a new company few people had heard of until then, unveiled plans to build a modern salmon farm on the port estate, next to Grimsby Town Football Club’s home ground.

Not only was it going to be the UK’s first full-scale recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) farm, but it would also be the largest single fish farm in the country.

The company could have gone to Scotland, where there is a wealth of aquaculture expertise, but it chose instead a Lincolnshire coastal town, which has clearly seen better days.

Some sceptics thought it a joke at first – but the company, which looked closely at several probable locations, was incredibly serious.

Artist’s impression

Grimsby still has the highest concentration of seafood processing expertise anywhere in Britain (and probably Europe as well), ranging from filleting and processing to refrigeration and transport.

It is why Young’s, the UK’s largest seafood business, is still there and why go-ahead companies such as Surrey-based New England Seafood International has invested heavily in the town.

Last month, the local North East Lincolnshire planning committee gave the £80m project its seal of approval. The council has since confirmed the decision.

There were a few opponents, mainly from people who have homes near the site, but also from groups who are against salmon farming in whatever shape it happens to come.

Mike Berthet

Abigail Penny,  Executive Director of Animal Equality UK, an international NGO that fought against the proposed Grimsby farm, said at the planning meeting: “The accidental flick of a switch or the turning of a dial can be catastrophic for the animals trapped in the system. They simply have nowhere to escape.”

But an officers’ report to councillors found the scheme would not generate “any significant noise” and effluent from the site would be treated to a high standard. The site is also part of a long-standing seafood development area.

The report ruled it would not cause harm to residential or business properties, or impact the visual character of the area.

The application is being managed by ASL New Clee Ltd – a subsidiary of AquaCultured Seafood Ltd. The project will include a 50 tank, 40,000m2 facility built close to cold stores and several seafood processing factories, including one devoted to salmon and trout.

Processing
salmon

The farm will cover 10 acres and produce 5,000 tonnes of salmon a year, exclusively for the UK market. Construction work could start this year.

Mike Berthet, founding member of ASL and a former director with a then Grimsby-based seafood business, said: “Approval was a major milestone in the company’s journey to establishing a new, responsible and sustainable form of fish farming in the UK.

“As someone who has worked in the local fishing industry for 40 years, I am delighted that Grimsby continues to be a leader in this sector.

“It is a groundbreaking development in the heartland of UK seafood processing. We will now take the good news back to our financial house in the City [of London] and to our existing shareholders, and put our shoulders to the wheel to raise the funds as quickly as possible, so we can get on-site and start the build.”

Site plan

The Mayor of North East Lincolnshire, Councillor Ian Lindley, said: “This is creating local jobs and we have got to bear in mind schemes like this don’t come along often in areas like North East Lincolnshire. We need to grasp the opportunity, providing it is right. I think it is right.

“It is a huge opportunity for the area; to throw it out would be foolhardy. This will be a massive boost to the local economy.”

As stated at a public consultation last summer, the project should take around four years to reach completion and produce the first salmon.

Does this mean that Grimsby will now become the salmon capital of the UK? Probably not as the north and west of Scotland is likely to retain that title for many years to come.

Opposition group
demonstrating against the proposal

But if AquaCultured Seafood is successful, it is likely to attract similar aquaculture projects. This is the direction salmon farming of the future appears to be heading.

The investment in the Grimsby plant is considerable and is expected to reach around £120m, creating 80 to 100 locally trained direct jobs and probably another 70 or 80 indirect jobs.

Berthet said he was grateful for the support his company had received from existing local seafood businesses and the wider business community.

“I really do hope that once we are up and running, the community will feel proud of what we have been able to bring to the Great Grimsby and Cleethorpes community,” he added.

Quite simply, it was a project Grimsby, with its long history of seafood innovation, could not afford to pass up.

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