The All Party Parliamentary Group on Fisheries last week held its second virtual public event, during which attendees heard from a snapshot of the innovative responses to COVID-19 taking place across the UK. About 70 participants, including MPs, industry representatives and support organisations, took part in the lively online discussion over how the sector has responded to the ongoing pandemic.
Speakers represented the variety of initiatives taking place to support the industry. Chris Ranford of Seafood Cornwall discussed how the #FishtoYourDoor campaign was benefiting every link of the Cornish seafood supply chain, while Ben King of Pesky Fish told attendees about how his company had adapted their online platform to connect consumers with fishing vessels.
Bob McCoubrey of the Mourne Seafood Bar covered his conversion from seafood restaurant to drive-through fishmongers’, Patrick Salmon of Alfred Enderby Ltd talked about changes to their distribution of smoked products, and Martin Yorwarth discussed how Yorwarth’s Fresh Fish had expanded sales to rural communities and collaborated with local fishers and national schemes such as Call4Fish.
Under normal circumstances, much of the locally caught seafood that is sold within the UK goes to the catering industry. With a dramatic downturn in catering sales, the seafood sector has had to adapt and engage with new customers.
‘More people are cooking at home due to the effects of coronavirus, and will likely continue to do so for some time,’ said Bob McCoubrey.
‘Many restaurants will not open again, customers will be hesitant about socialising and there will no doubt be less money around. This could be an opportunity for the local seafood industry but will involve educating people about how to prepare and cook local species.’
A common theme of a number of the presentations was connecting fishermen with consumers, either directly or through an intermediary.
‘Some parts of the fishing industry have been very proactive in selling fish to local customers,’ said Martin Yorwarth.
‘These small family businesses have worked relentlessly to meet customer demand, in a time where people were becoming increasingly frightened as the food supply appeared to dry up. This shows how versatile and innovative the fishing industry can be.’
There are hopes that the uptake of consumption of local seafood by the UK public may continue into the long term.
‘We certainly now know that the British public love to eat a diverse range of locally caught fish and shellfish,’ said Chris Ranford.
‘It is critical to sustain this and put the necessary infrastructure in place, such as through public-facing fish markets to support direct sales, and stocking major supermarkets’ fish counters with locally caught seafood.’
Speakers urged the public and the wider regulatory network to continue to support the UK seafood sector throughout the pandemic and beyond.
‘Education, government advertisements and encouraging the public to talk to their MPs about their experiences could help support the industry,’ said Martin Yorwarth. Other panelists were in agreement.
‘We must encourage and support the public to keep buying and trying the wide variety of species our fishermen catch throughout the seasons,’ said Chris Ranford.
‘If you live in or near a fishing community, then walk down to your quayside and make a connection with your local fishermen and visit your local fishmonger. It’s vital we sustain momentum.’