A prominent Scottish politician has entered the debate on automation in the seafood industry, following comments made after his visit to International Fish Canners (IFC) in Fraserburgh, Scotland.
Speaking to The Press and Journal newspaper, the Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross suggested robots might be a solution to the labour shortages experienced by the seafood processing sector.
Ross commented that rising energy costs and difficulties in recruiting workers were two key issues concerning the industry in Scotland.
In the aftermath of Brexit and the COVID pandemic, the Scottish seafood processing industry has faced significant challenges in hiring and retaining staff. Ross commented that following the pandemic, "Many people went back home to be with their families and never returned." Despite this, he said, the sector still employs a "significant proportion" of workers from the EU.
At the same time, he suggested, the industry was not always seen as an attractive career option, despite the good wages on offer. "We need to do more to promote the industry and improve people's perceptions of it," he added, speaking to the Press and Journal reporter.
Ross emphasised that he did not envisage robots replacing human workers, but instead suggested the industry could look for ways in which technology can compensate for a smaller workforce.
Automation in fish processing has been successfully implemented in several seafood processing contexts, largely focused on eliminating dangerous, difficult, and repetitive tasks. Technologies such as Marel's RoboBatcher, a solution for for fish packaging, or Flexicut, for deboning, are already on the market. However, in many fish processing situations, skilled manual labour is still required, for tasks such as trimming of fillets and quality inspection.
International Fish Canners is the UK's only fish cannery, strategically located in Fraserburgh close to the rich fishing grounds of the North East Atlantic. IFC specialises in the production of canned mackerel fillets, sardines and Atlantic salmon under private label contract.