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Business / Salmon body optimistic Grieg Seafood will find a buyer

SSPO chief executive Scott hopeful 200 jobs will be safeguarded after company announces plans to focus on Norway and Canada

Salmon Scotland chief executive Tavish Scott. Photo: Salmon Scotland

THE HEAD of Scottish salmon’s main industry body says he has every confidence that new owners will be found to safeguard the jobs of Grieg Seafood Shetland’s 200-strong workforce.

Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO) chief executive Tavish Scott, who served as the islands’ MSP for 20 years, was speaking following Monday’s announcement that Grieg Seafood intends to sell its Shetland sites.

Grieg Seafood has nine active salmon farm sites in the islands at Scalloway, Gonfirth and Whalsay, but is reacting to global upheaval in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic by focusing on its farms in Norway and Canada.

The company is conducting a strategic review expected to be completed sometime in 2021 and the aim is to sell its Shetland operations “when the timing is right”. In a presentation to investors it said the assumption was that a sale could take place in the second half of the 2021 financial year.

Scott, who addressed the issue during an appearance before a parliamentary committee earlier this week, acknowledged the impact on affected staff but said there was a “very strong likelihood” they would be working in the same jobs for a different company.

“First and foremost obviously there is uncertainty, which is tough, tough for the people who currently work for the company, particularly in the run-up to Christmas,” he told Shetland News.

“But ultimately I have no doubt that the assets in the business, the farm sites themselves, the processing and the Girlsta factory will transfer to new ownership. What or who that will be and in what timescale none of us yet know.

“But what I’m darn sure about is that in a period of time the corporate logo on the boilersuit and the survival suit may have changed, but the very able people who work for Grieg’s at the moment will still be working in the salmon farming sector.”

Scott said it appeared to be worldwide factors including Covid-19 and a fall in prices that dictated Grieg Seafood’s decision to concentrate on Norway and Canada. Brexit is a factor too albeit “not the overriding one”, he said.

While the salmon farming industry in Shetland has long encountered problems dealing with sea lice, he said Grieg Seafood was “comfortable with progress” on that front and that any remaining challenges were “not considered to be insurmountable”.

“If you take the Skye sites which Grieg is disposing of, they’re transferring to another operator which believes they can produce good, clean healthy fish,” Scott said.

While Cooke Aquaculture and Scottish Seafarms are already operating in Shetland, Scott said it did not necessarily follow that they would be the natural investors in Grieg’s assets.

He noted that some of SSPO’s smaller members have already attracted private equity investors and there is money “sloshing around” the global economy looking for a home.