80-plus Bakkafrost processing jobs at risk in Western Isles

Arnish harvest station, Stornoway

At least 80 jobs in the Western Isles are at risk, following the news that Bakkafrost Scotland is planning to mothball its harvest and processing facilities in Stornoway, on the Isle of Lewis.

The sites affected are the processing facility, in Stornoway’s Marybank industrial estate, and the harvest station at Arnish (pictured).

The company said today that there would be very little requirement for harvesting or processing over the next 18 months in its operations in the north of Scotland.

A spokesperson for Bakkafrost Scotland said today: “I can confirm we are considering a temporary, but extended, closure of our facilities at Marybank and Arnish in Stornoway, affecting around 80 jobs.

“As our communicated plans, the business has harvested the majority of our production in the first part of the year and there will be minimal harvesting activity over the next 18 months in the North, this is due to stocking timing and locations.

“Our board has been forced to consider extremely difficult scenarios in order to futureproof the business and secure our remaining staff across Scotland. One of the scenarios proposed is that we close the Arnish Harvest Station and the Marybank Processing Facility, for an extended period.

“We intend to start a period of collective consultation with those potentially affected and hope to complete this over the coming weeks.”

Output from the company’s Southern sites will continue to be processed at the Cairndow facility.

Bakkafrost Scotland is owned by Faroes-based Bakkafrost.

Bakkafrost Scotland’s Marybank processing facility, Stornoway (photo: Google Street View)

Elected representatives for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (also known as the Western Isles) have expressed concern over the job losses, which would have a significant impact on this sparsely populated part of Scotland.

Alasdair Allan MSP, who represents Na h-Eileanan an Iar  in the Scottish Parliament, met directors of the company this afternoon by phone and also took part in an emergency meeting organised by the Comhairle, the Island’s local council.

He commented: “Obviously this news is devastating for the Isle of Lewis, and it will be a deeply worrying time for the employees of the plant and their families.

“This is one of the island’s largest employers and these job losses will have other knock-on impacts on smaller local business. I fear for the impact this decision could have on the wider economy and community in the islands, and this was my message when I met the company by phone this afternoon.”

He added that Bakkafrost had confirmed there would be no job losses at the company’s fish farm sites across the Western Isles, despite the major impact on processing.

Allan said: “I met earlier in the day with both Comhairle nan Eilean Siar [the islands’ council] and Bakkafrost and urged the company to reconsider this decision. I am also writing to the Deputy First Minister and Highland and Islands Enterprise to look into assisting Bakkafrost to potentially recommencing operations at Arnish in future years.

“Importantly, I intend to meet with representatives of the workforce at their earliest convenience to see what more can be done to support workers and their families during this difficult time.”

Meanwhile, Torcuil Crichton, newly-elected Member of the UK Parliament for the constituency, told broadcaster STV: “This is a grave blow for the Marybank employees, some of whom are long-serving and skilled staff, and the island economy.

“I have spoken to the company this week and realistically does not look likely that the mothballed plant will be reopened.”

“Bakkafrost have given an assurance that the 80-plus fish farm site jobs in the Western Isles are secure but I urge HIE [Highlands and Islands Enterprise] and the Scottish Government and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar to have a co-ordinate a response to find alternative employment for the workers and to help maintain the fish farm sector in the islands.”

In November, Bakkafrost laid off 140 processing staff in the Faroes, citing the impact of a new revenue tax on salmon companies as the reason for the job cuts.

Earlier this month Bakkafrost Scotland reported a much improved harvest for the second quarter of this year. Scotland in total produced 11,400 tonnes against 7,300 tonnes for the same April to June period last year.

The company has struggled with biological issues but its recent trading updates sugest this is improving. In the long run, post-smolt facilities being built at Applecross, near Skye and planned for Hunterston in Ayrshire should improve survival rates and help to ensure consistent production year-round, but for now, staff on Lewis look set to pay the price.

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