SCOTLAND’S seafood processors are far more dependent on European workers than those elsewhere in the UK, new figures from Marine Scotland show.
And efforts to recruit UK workers were now becoming more challenging.
The survey found that around 58 per cent of seafood staff in Scotland were from Europe – mainly Poland, Latvia and Lithuania – compared to 42 per cent among food producers for the UK as a whole.
The figures are broadly comparable to those unveiled by Seafish, the industry authority, at the Humber Seafood Summit last October, which highlighted Scotland’s dependence on EU seafood workers.
The Marine Scotland report said ‘recruiting UK nationals has become more challenging over the years, which has increased the dependency on a non-UK workforce’.
‘This dependency has resulted in the surveyed seafood processing businesses voicing their concerns on finding suitable and reliable labour if, when the UK exits from the EU, there are changes to the free movement of people.
‘This has resulted in some businesses citing the EU exit as a significant threat to their business’ operational viability.’
Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing (pictured) said in a statement: ‘With the majority of EEA [European Economic Area] employees working on permanent contracts, and likely to be living here on a long-term basis, processors are rightly concerned for the future and the potential loss of skilled and experienced food processing employees.
‘This study backs up recent analysis which found EU nationals contribute more than £4.4 billion a year to our economy and shows exactly why we value the contribution they make in our communities.
‘We will continue to show EU nationals that they are welcome here and call for free movement of people, which is clearly in the best interests of Scotland and the UK as a whole.’
Further concern about food production has come from Westminster’s All-Party Parliamentary Group in a report warning that Brexit could seriously hit food businesses because it would become impossible to compete at world market prices.