Research has found that grant funding from the Fishmongers’ Company’s Fisheries Charitable Trust and Seafarers UK enabling fishing and seafood businesses to sell direct to the public throughout the first lockdown in 2020 created increased profits, job security, employment opportunities and business resilience.
The research into the impact of the COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant Programme, conducted by Risk & Policy Analysts, also identified key lessons for the future of the UK seafood industry and for future grants programmes designed to support it. Those who received the grants said that there was a clear current demand for UK seafood, with UK customers willing to pay a premium for locally caught produce. Promotional initiatives focused on maintaining demand for this seafood post-pandemic can therefore play a key role in future industry vitality. Operating a seafood business during the lockdown also revealed the precariousness of the existing distribution networks, suggesting that support for and improvements to the industry’s inland transportation infrastructure will build long-term resilience.
For small businesses that utilised the funding provided under the £500,000 Rapid Response Grant Programme (RRGP), the analysis of impact highlighted the need for technical and marketing support, to manage both the grant application process, and more importantly, the challenges of rapidly shifting to socially distanced business models.
The simplicity of the application process, made even more accessible with the independent help and support provided by ‘Fishing Animateurs’, combined with the rapid approval and payment process were highly valued by recipients, who were often both time poor and inexperienced in navigating technical application forms. These elements of the RRGP are in contrast to the bulk of other support funding on offer for the seafood sector, which can be lengthy and require specialist grant application skills.
The RRGP enabled fishermen and seafood businesses to diversify in response to the first national lockdown in 2020, providing funds for processing equipment, establishment of cooperatives and delivery of seafood door-to-door. The independent survey of the 121 recipients reveals how the fund enabled seafood businesses to survive, and at times thrive, under the pressures of lockdown and COVID-19.
Increased resilience to external threats such as COVID-19 and Brexit proved one of the key outcomes, with 82% of recipients planning to continue their diversified business models and direct sales beyond the pandemic. Island Fish was one such recipient. Director, Amanda Pender, explained that the processing equipment purchased with the funding ‘was not intended to be a panacea to combat all financial difficulties, rather it was to form part of an arsenal of tools intended to assist in making the company more profitable and better able to easily offer a greater range of fish to the local populace, visitors and businesses – this it achieved, easily and without any difficulties’.
Selling direct to the public has not only brought increased sales but also improved links with the local community and increased demand for locally caught and prepared seafood. Amanda explains: ‘Without doubt the grant helped increase sales of fresh fish – therefore having an effect on profitability as well as introducing a new type of affordable and delicious locally caught fish into the marketplace for people to enjoy’.
The business activity enabled by the grants also supported and created new jobs in the sector, with 65% of recipients saying their grant supported the employment of at least one individual and 57% saying the grant allowed their business to keep staff employed. Furthermore, the ability to adapt to the pressures of COVID-19 meant that numerous businesses could avoid closure, with 28% of recipients explaining that grant funding kept them running during the lockdown.