It seems like Scotland’s salmon farms have bounced back after Covid. After years of struggle with Brexit, the cost-of-living crisis, soaring energy costs and the war in Ukraine, it looks as if the pandemic may have been the silver-lining in an ominous cloud. With families forced to stay at home during the pandemic, people became accustomed to catering for themselves and discovered the ease and benefits of cooking salmon. The result has been a surge in trade, with some farmed salmon companies switching sales from the catering sector to retail, as their products are swept off the supermarket shelves by eager customers. 

Regin Jacobsen, CEO of Bakkafrost, a Faroese company with a strong presence in Scotland, told the major Seafood Expo Global conference in Barcelona in the Spring, that according to some people “Covid was the biggest marketing campaign for salmon”. He said people had started to buy more salmon because they had gained confidence in preparing it at home. He told the conference: “Sometimes something good comes out of a crisis – more consumers are buying fish from supermarkets, and we are now seeing that while people are back eating in restaurants, they still buy fish from supermarkets. The demand is high for these products.”

Salmon is the UK’s number one fish product purchased by consumers, with record exports of more than 100,000 tons per year worth over £1.1 billion, in a sector providing direct employment to 2,500 people, with thousands of additional jobs in support industries. Scottish salmon is now the UK’s largest food export, supporting remote, coastal and island communities, primarily in the west coast and highlands and islands, where there are thousands of jobs and livelihoods linked directly and indirectly to fish farming. 

Indeed, aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector in the world and in Scotland we have the perfect environment for fish farming. We have an almost limitless coastline with ideal bays, lochs, and sea conditions. We lead the world in the science and technology necessary for a thriving aquaculture industry. At a time when demand for healthy fish products is rising internationally, while marine fish stocks continue to decline, the opportunities for Scottish aquaculture to lead the world in fish farming innovation and technological development are great. The quality of Scotland’s salmon is widely recognised in our largest markets of France, the USA, China and Singapore, and there have also been sharp increases in newer international markets.

Our fish farms are recognised for producing products of the highest quality, in conditions of maximum hygiene and welfare, while conserving the natural resources that are required for their very existence. Of course, the industry welcomes sound government regulation to provide protection to the consumer in terms of the quality and safety of fish and shellfish products, ensuring that vitally important consumer confidence is maintained. But, as more and more people discovered during the pandemic, Scotland’s fish farming sector is dynamic, environmentally sustainable, clean, welfare-friendly and safe, producing a valuable, high quality, nutritionally healthy, low-fat product, rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, essential for human health. 

The Covid pandemic had a massive impact on Scotland’s salmon farming sector, with the worldwide lockdown and closure of pubs and restaurants delivering a dramatic blow to overseas exports. But the domestic market for salmon fought back with surging sales. Salmon has been one of the big winners in this regard, with its popularity now reaching new levels. Farmed salmon has even gained a competitive advantage over land-based livestock fed on grains, that have soared in price due to the Ukraine war and spiralling energy costs. 

Tavish Scott, CEO of Scottish Salmon, says: “The rise in consumption here in the UK shows that more consumers recognise the health values and unrivalled quality of Scottish salmon, with year-on-year improvements to the way producers are rearing and feeding their stock which meet the highest welfare standards”. Scotland’s salmon farmers will be glad that at least something good has come from the Covid pandemic.