Currency is just about to make life very difficult

I love this time of year, still relatively warm but autumn and winter are definitely on their way. Trees are clinging to their leaves but greens are giving way to gold and rust. On the forest floor the best of the year’s fungi is pushing through. There are only weeks left of the rod and line trout and salmon season, and game hunters will soon be swapping their fly rods for guns as attention is concentrated on prey clothed in feather and fur.

Usually at this time of year we have already done our large end of season eel restocking release at Llangorse near Brecon. Unfortunately we have experienced some delays in permissions and health checks and had to postpone but are now tentatively planning for a release this week. The eels have responded really well to feeding this year and we will have over 100,000 for releasing on the day, and any chefs or customers who would like to do their bit, help with the release or like to know how to get more involved with our eel project do not hesitate to get in touch.

Now for a bit on Brexit - it’s the topic of conversation that’s occupying all the news at the moment but we would much rather refer to it as ‘’Fixit’’ (please) and quickly. Most of our fishermen were wholehearted Brexit supporters and clearly thought, and probably quite rightly too, that some of the quota’s and restrictions our fishermen work under could be challenged and renegotiated.

Some of the industry’s leaders got themselves even more excited, Bertie Armstrong the CEO of Scottish Fishermen’s Association said It marked the first real opportunity since quotas were introduced in 1983 to return to being a world leader in sustainable seafood and although not opposed to sharing British waters with French or other European partners, it would now be “on our terms”. Barrie Deas, Chief Executive of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations was a little more measured and said the fishing quota system had led to some gross anomalies, none more so than in the Channel where the British end up with 9% of the cod catch, and the French with 84%.

These anomalies actually are widespread. In the Celtic sea our cod allocation is just 800 tonnes compared to 5,500 tonnes for France. In the Eastern Channel the French are allowed to catch 3 times as much sole as UK fishermen, the process of renegotiating a better deal is bound to be a long and drawn out affair but it’s essential that negotiators eventually prove ‘Brexit’ was long term in the fishing industry’s best interests.

Far more important is the uncertainty the whole Brexit affair has attracted and now with currency markets devaluing the pound even further international commodities, and that includes fish, are going to be even more difficult to trade in. Seafood in all its forms (shellfish, wild and farmed fish) are now traded globally, but unlike most global commodities that use US dollars as price indicator, fish is traded in the currency of its sale or purchase. For example the mackerel season has just begun and with the Far East now a principal player in the market the strengthening of the Yen against European currencies has meant that Scottish and Faroese fishermen can sell their product overseas at over a 60% increase on last year’s price, just as a result of currency movement. For us in the UK that means a very difficult conversation explaining how prices must increase by a similar margin.

Salmon certainly hasn’t escaped the currency issue either. The strengthening of the US Dollar and the weakening of the Pound against the Norwegian krone (NOK) from 13 to under 10 NOK to the Pound in 9 months means that the US has become a much more attractive and easier market to sell to. Exports from Scotland and Norway to the US are at record levels meaning less fish available for the UK market. Farmers seem keen to test the record price levels that they hit a couple of months ago, combine this with our devalued pound and the result means more price increases and difficult conversations with customers.

It’s these weakening and strengthening of currencies depending on their alignment to oil, precious metals , political climate, war, Brexit, or whatever makes planning or price predications nigh on impossible to make at the moment. Since Brexit we have seen the pound lose over 15% of its value against the Euro, this may be great for exporters but we are already seeing price increases in French wine (funny, wine was the first product that came to mind). It will not be long before Australian and New World wines are trying to barge their way back on to our supermarket shelves with discounted price offers.