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ALEX BELL: Scotland’s seafood is not just for ‘poshos’. Let’s embrace it

A fisherman at Arbroath Harbour.
A fisherman at Arbroath Harbour.

Across Scotland boats are moored at the quay. The small vessels which catch lobsters, crabs, langoustines and scallops are caught in the midst of Brexit troubles.

The trade’s biggest market is the Continent, with the product being sold on its freshness. Since Brexit some seafood doesn’t meet EU import rules, and some is getting stuck in border delays.

It only takes a short delay and the catch becomes worthless.

The political squabbling sees the SNP blaming Boris and the Scotland Office.

The Liberal Democrats are blaming the UK Cabinet secretary.

The Tories are blaming teething troubles.

The Scottish Government says it will set up a compensation fund for fishermen.

The UK Scotland Office has set up a task force on the matter.

The SNP say the task force is “clueless”.

UK Environment Secretary George Eustice blamed the European Commission for changing its rules on molluscs from class B waters, as found off the English and Welsh coasts. This doesn’t affect the Scottish catch.

Fishermen suffering from delays

Our fishermen are suffering from bureaucratic delays.

Scottish Seafood Association chief executive Jimmy Buchan says “brand Scotland is being damaged right now because of the (political) inaction”.

Jimmy Buchan.
Jimmy Buchan.

Scotland Food and Drink chief executive James Withers told MPs: “We have ended up with a trading regime that has become complex, costly, slow, prone to breakdown at its best; and, at worst, the door to the EU market has been closed altogether for some food exporters across Scotland.”

Lib Dem Alistair Carmichael says Eustice should resign.

Meanwhile, Deirdre Brock of the SNP said: “It is crucial that the UK Government finally steps up to the plate with a multi-billion-pound package of Brexit compensation and a grace period for Scotland, support for businesses to navigate Brexit bureaucracy, and a renegotiation to guarantee Scottish shellfish exports.”

There is a trope among Scots to bewail that “all the seafood goes to Spain” as if this was another form of exploitation. The implication is that it’s “our fish” and should stay at home.

Class issues

On the one hand fishing is the honest trade of hardworking people who shouldn’t be denied by Tories/red tape/Brussels/Brexit or whoever the enemy of the day is.

A crab in a creel at Arbroath Harbour.
A crab in a creel at Arbroath Harbour.

On the other hand, fish and seafood is a weird product which only foreigners like. If it ain’t battered, it ain’t natural.

Lobsters are then a class issue; good for jobs, only for nobs.

Which is really very odd. Scotland has a large seafood catch. It is a natural crop, a foodstuff of this place; it’s as Scottish as beef and lamb, haggis and neeps.

The business of catching seafood is largely locally owned. It sustains small communities all along the coast. It is then a good source of revenue. Fishermen on those small boats can make a lot of money. Hard work, but well paid (and in cash).

If this were oil, another revenue product from the seas, the SNP would have car stickers claiming “it’s our scallops” and would have found a way to accuse Westminster of harming crabs. The first minister would boast how she wanted to have lobster for tea but a Tory nicked it off her plate.

I have eaten at Bute House many times, but never on seafood. Yet a dinner at the French consulate in Edinburgh was a triumph of local catch, served with lemon and mayonnaise. This looked typically French, but everything there was Scottish.

It’s a bit like how venison used to be treated: A food for the poshos. For a politician to eat it was an act of class betrayal, of getting above yourself. But, of course, deer are just another crop, providing just another kind of protein.

Deer and lobsters don’t know they are ‘posh’

The deer don’t know they are posh. Nor do the lobsters. It’s a class thing imposed by people, and it is very silly.

In Deirdre Brock’s native Australia food is not served with a class sneer. It’s either good and fresh, or it’s a pie. This is a much healthier attitude in all respects.

Thus she’s entitled to demand her billions and to claim, as she does, that the problem wouldn’t exist if Scotland was in charge of itself – but she might also want to eat her words, in a good way.

Eating Scottish seafood should be promoted

The Scottish Government should plough some of its abundant money into an Eat Scottish campaign. Make it an act of good citizenship to eat a scallop. Champion Seafood Saturday when the nation is urged to celebrate the weekend with a mollusc.

If we ate the catch, it wouldn’t matter what politicians in London or Brussels did. There is no crisis in not selling to the Spanish, say. The problem is not selling it at all. If we bought it, the problem is solved. Which is what the Spaniards would do in the first place.

Get celebrities to promote lobsters. Have political figures boast of their indulgence on langoustines or mussels. Reclaim seafood from the tired cliches of it being foreign or fancy and sell it for what it is – a healthy, local produce that comes from Scottish waters, is caught by Scottish fishermen and brings money into Scottish communities.