“Restaurants told us, we kept open during the First and the Second World War, but we have to close for this”

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“Our business has exploded in the last two weeks”. There are some wildly different experiences for smaller but key salmon suppliers across the country.

As the coronavirus causes lockdowns and has shut down the restaurant industry indeterminately, fish suppliers that deal in salmon are each facing rapid changes to the market place.

A spokesperson from The Cornish Fish Store based in the South West of England told SalmonBusiness that “we are still dealing, still open” but that it was struggling with transport.

PHOTO: Cornish Fish Mongers

Not worthwhile
She said that fleets were out getting crab and wild catch – but the real issue was with Scottish salmon. “Grimsby market is closed and it’s not worthwhile for companies to come here without visiting Grimsby”.

The issue is transporting – or rather the government coronavirus rules on permitting trucks of Scottish salmon to drive all the way down to the south of the UK. “If it doesn’t change the way it is going, we may have a real issue”.

Alistair Blair. PHOTO: The Fish Society

Alistair Blair from The Fish Society, a high-end fishmonger which has been running for 25 years, said the company was working flat out: “Our customer volume has tripled with few people in the building, half the office home or downstairs with the fish team moving fish out of the premises”.

“The customer base was always 100 per cent home delivery, we don’t have any catering customers. We deliver high-quality fish to people who want to eat at home. So our business has exploded in the last two weeks.”

Essentially closing
Do you have issues with salmon at the moment?

“Someone just sent me a photo of a pallet of smoked salmon which arrived today. So, however, our supplier has said he is essentially closing – which is why we bought a 30-40 kilo pallet. And we have got 150 kilos of fresh salmon coming tomorrow. We take it week by week,” added Blair.

Can you keep going at this pace?

“I just don’t know, if we have the bodies in the building and our delivery via conventional courier companies is sufficiently reliable then we do plan to keep on going helping feed the nation in a small way,” he added.

For one of the oldest smokers in Scotland, perhaps even the world, built-in 1585, the Ugie Salmon Fish House in Peterhead, North East Scotland, old habits die hard.

PHOTO: The Ugie Salmon Fish House

“60 per cent of our business has probably gone,” explained Ugie Production manager Joseph Yule. “We still have a retail shop here, and can still trade. Home delivery is difficult but we are putting it out there. We will just have to learn to do these things.

16th century
The company sources its salmon from Scottish Sea Farms explained that in normal times, it could have guaranteed orders on Monday to top hotels and restaurants in the UK and mainland Europe. That’s not the case anymore. “A restaurant customer who takes an order every week from us was on the phone to us crying saying we have kept open during the first and the second world war but we have to close for this, they are really distraught. Its had an effect on an awful lot of people”.

It was originally built for George Keith, the Fifth Earl Marischal for curing and preserving game and fish at the end of the 16th century.

If it went through all those wars, built at the dawn of the Eighty Years’ War. Are you confident it can get through the coronavirus? “I am confident the business will do, it’s if I will. But we will do our best,” added Yule.