Scotland's seafood processing sector: employment patterns

Employment patterns of non-United Kingdom (UK) European Economic Area (EEA) workers in Scotland's seafood processing sector.



Scottish seafood processing businesses employed 7,900 people in 2014 and contributed £461 million in GVA to the Scottish economy in the same year [2] . This sector has been identified as vulnerable to potential changes in the free movement of people when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, because it derives a high proportion of its workforce from the non- UK EEA labour market.

A study conducted by Seafish for Marine Scotland and Defra estimated dependency on non- UK EEA workers in the seafood processing sector for the whole UK. It found 42% of the workforce in the surveyed processors across the UK were non- UK EEA nationals. It suggests the equivalent figure for Scotland is higher at 55%. These figures however varied by region with the highest rates of dependency on non- UK EEA nations in Grampian at 70% compared with Humberside at around 20% [3] .

This report presents findings on follow-up work to gather detailed information on:

  • employment patterns - domestic, non- UK EEA, non- EEA and permanent versus temporary (seasonal) workers in Scotland;
  • dependency on non- UK EEA and non- EEA labour in Scotland;
  • skills of non- UK workers in Scotland's seafood processing sector;
  • recruitment practices for non- UK EEA workers, and;
  • Industry's concerns if there were a restriction on employment of non- UK EEA workers when the UK leaves the EU.


Marine Scotland targeted 18 processing businesses engaging in salmon, mixed/whitefish, pelagic and shellfish processing. The 18 businesses employed a total of 3,033 people which represents 37% of those employed in Scottish seafood processing. Businesses targeted were medium (25-50 employees) to large scale (50+ employees) processors in a range of geographical locations throughout Scotland (Figure 1). These businesses were targeted as they are considered to be more exposed to changes in labour, therefore this report is representative of medium to large processing businesses in Scotland. In the majority of cases face-to-face and telephone interviews were used to collect data and in a minority of cases, businesses self-completed the survey questionnaire which they returned to Marine Scotland.

Figure 1: Details of sampled processing businesses referenced in this report

Figure 1: Details of sampled processing businesses referenced in this report

Marine Scotland used a standard questionnaire to collect data from the sampled businesses ( see Annex A). The questionnaire was sent to processing businesses prior to face-to-face or telephone interviews with business operations or human resource representatives. The survey collected data on:

1) the composition of the workforce;

2) the dependency on and roles undertaken by high and low-skilled workers, and;

3) the possible implications of the UK's exit from the EU.

The survey focused on 2016 employment figures to capture year-round employment activity, including non-permanent/seasonal staff. This allowed businesses to provide reliable figures as 2016 administration had concluded, so total annual figures were known. All processors responding to the survey confirmed that 2016 was representative of their average annual employment patterns and a representative example of the composition of their workforce.


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