Macduff investment revitalises Stornoway

November 2014

The acquisition by Macduff of Young’s Seafood’s Stornoway facility just over a year ago also marked the beginning of an upturn in confidence and optimism among skippers, particularly in the local prawn trawl fleet. The main reason for this welcome development is the unique forward looking partnership Macduff immediately established with the equally positive thinking local authority Comhairle Nan Eilean Siar (CnES) and the Western Isles Fisherman’s Association (WIFA), in association with the Royal Bank of Scotland. To date this initiative has helped to modernise the Stornoway fleet by enabling five local skippers to purchase a newer class of vessel.

David Linkie reports.

“Stornoway desperately needed this initiative and forward looking partnership approach, which has helped to rejuvenate the local fleet. The increase in momentum and optimism around the harbour is great to see and be part of.”

“It is fantastic that Macduff are willing to endorse the long-term commitment of local skippers. As well as helping the Stornoway fleet, their positive involvement is directly benefitting the wider local community.”

“Before Macduff came to Stornoway, the local prawn fleet were only going in one direction – astern – which itself was extremely demoralising. Their involvement in what is proving to be a highly effective partnership with CnES and WIFA is enabling everyone to refocus on the future with greater confidence and renewed motivation.”

These comments were given to Fishing News on the quayside at Stornoway by skippers of varying experience. Coming at a time when many fishing ports and communities in the UK view the future with concern, the optimism reflected in the skippers’ comments underlines their significance as well as their all too unusual nature. More than ever before, skippers and crews rely heavily on catches securing best prices.

To facilitate this, processors are equally dependent of consist supplies of quality seafood in line with ever higher expectations of discerning customers in the catering, retail or wholesale sectors. Establishing closer links between businesses that catch and buy seafood at the point of landing is an important step towards delivering mutual benefits.

When Macduff acquired Young’s Seafood’s Stornoway facility one year ago, the intention was to build on experience and commitment of the employees and the fleet supplying the business. Macduff believed that the Stornoway facility had the ability to flourish under ownership of a business where shellfish is the sole focus. Macduff’s experienced management team saw opportunities unleashed by buying the Stornoway facility as twofold: to use the foothold in Stornoway to build relationships with fishermen on the Western Isles; and to invest in the factory to achieve sustainable and profitable growth.

Macduff wanted to expand the shellfish species it was buying from the Western Isles and increase quantities of shellfish processed in that factory.

Achieving a sustainable platform for growth in Stornoway was prioritised as being a first stepping stone, in which relationships between the factory and fishermen are interlinked. Increasing landings to Macduff also increases the need for additional processing, ability to invest in the factory and expand the workforce in Stornoway.

Macduff has always seen the role of catching and processing as closely interlinked and it required a relationship based on trust and understanding the value that each partner brings to the chain of custody.

In developing its relationship with fishermen, Macduff brought a track record of investing in vessels and equipment, as well as providing the financial backing to allow fishermen to realise their ambitions.

The company already had these arrangements in place with fishermen on the east coast of Scotland prior to making the bold move of acquiring its own scallop fishing fleet through the purchases of Scott Trawlers and Saltire Seafoods.

While fully recognising the potential of implementing a similar policy at Stornoway, Macduff did not anticipate the speed with which progress would be made.

That such major strides have been taken in the first year can be directly attributed to a very receptive fishing community – fuelled by Duncan McInnes, WIFA secretary- and an extremely positive local authority – CnES, which together have a longstanding track record of providing constructive support to the fishing industry, including helping first time skippers to acquire their first boat and others to progress their careers, throughout the Western Isles.

By providing private investment on top of the loan funded by the CnES at commercial rates in partnership with the Royal Bank of Scotland, Macduff are enabling established skippers to move to a more efficient class of twin rig trawler, as well as helping experienced local fishermen acquire their first vessel.

By taking the form of a loan repayable at an agreed percentage of vessel’s grossing, at no point do Macduff hold any shares in a vessel purchased under this unique scheme.

One of the first fishermen to benefit from this forward looking initiative was North Tolsta skipper Murdo MacDonald, who purchased the 17m twin rig trawler Sharon Rose SY 190 (ex Shekinah INS155). That Sharon Rose at present is the only steel-hulled prawn trawler in the Stornoway fleet immediately illustrates the increased level of operational efficiency local skippers can aspire to with the additional funding Macduff brought to the partnership table.

Skipper Murdo MacDonald previous boat, the 16.4m Silver Chord SY 101, continues to fish from Stornoway after Macduff helped Adam McClements, who previously skippered Kildonan UL 145, to progress his career.

Sharon Rose was quickly joined at Stornoway by the ¾ length shelter decked Kilkeel twin rig trawler Temeraire N850, which was immediately renamed Prevail SY 121 by local skipper Calum McIver. Built by Gerrad Bros of Arbroath in 1990 as Headway IV PD 229, Prevail is the youngest vessel in the Stornoway fleet.

While of similar length to the generally 15m-17m class of vessel that Stornoway skippers have favoured down the years, the greater endurance of the fleet additions will enable them to put in more days, particularly during the winter months. This in turn will provide Macduff with better supply continuity of prawns through the Stornoway factory.

Stornoway skipper Stephen Mackay was also supported by Macduff and CnES to take over ownership of Sincerity SY 70 from Murdo Murray, having skippered the trawler for the previous 12 months.

The most recent vessel acquisition of this nature, which was only completed earlier this month, resulted in Iain Mclean taking ownership of the 16.8m twin rig trawler Lead Us SY144, which brothers Roddy and Sammy Morrison previously fished from Stockinish, Harris.

Far from sitting back and reflecting on what has been achieved in a short timescale, Macduff, together with CnES, WIFA and several proactive and younger local skippers keen to advance their careers, are currently looking for suitable boats, as a result of which further additions to the Stornoway fleet are expected in the not too distant future.

The Macduff partnership imitative also includes vessel modernisation, as shown by the recent re-engining of Peter MacDonald’s 17m prawn trawler Sheigra SY 7.

Councillor Angus Campbell, CnES Leader, said that the Comhairle has always recognised the importance of the fishing industry to the local economy and welcomes this partnership working with Macduff.

“In the past ten years, we have invested over £1.5m in the local fleet – in addition to a further £700,000 through the Community prawn quota scheme. We look forward to continued development of good working relationships with the fisheries sector – and with Macduff in particular,” he said.

Euan Beaton, chairman of Macduff Shellfish, added that it became apparent very quickly that CnES and themselves had the same ambitions and that by Macduff providing financial assistance alongside the Outer Hebrides Fisheries Investment Scheme they could provide greater financial support to more fishermen.

“Macduff is a family business and one which has been working from the sea for over 132 years. We know from first-hand experience that fishing never happens in isolation.

“The journey from the sea to the plate relies on the hard work and expertise of many different people whose livelihoods are critical to the communities we are part of. The funding initiative is about giving fishermen the best chance of success.

“The relationship is bearing considerable and early fruit. Macduff has expanded its langoustine buying in the Western Isles and now also buys scallops, whelks and crabs from local fishermen,” he told Fishing News, adding that the story from Stornoway is one of good news for fishermen and employment opportunities ashore, and therefore the local economy in general.

Skipper Iain McLean: “The financial support Macduff provided enabled me to purchase a considerably better boat than I originally anticipated. Rather than starting with possibly a smaller and older single rig trawler, it was possible to jump several rungs up the ladder with the purchase of the 16.8m twin rig trawler Lead Us.

“By enabling us to put in more working days during the winter months, this class of vessel also made it easier to get experienced local crewmen, which are invaluable.

“Without doubt, due to the involvement of Macduff I consider myself to have been extremely fortunate.”

Skipper Donald Morrison: “In providing needed investment, Macduff are a brilliant help to Stornoway fishermen. The company came with a good reputation of being supportive to skippers, and this is certainly proving to be the case. “By sustaining increased quayside prices, Macduff has given the Stornoway fleet a major and very timely lift. The increased level of help now available has made some modernisation possible.

“Having sold my previous boat (the 12m Athena SY 201) this upgrading will continue when a suitable replacement trawler is sourced. The support Macduff provide is allowing skippers to purchase more suitable vessels, while leaving some money to adapt boats to personal needs.”

Skipper Calum McIver: “The arrival of Macduff Shellfish in Stornoway has been the catalyst which has provided the opportunity for local skippers to invest in newer vessels. Macduff working in partnership with CNES, WIFA and RBS has enabled my partner Iain Murray and I to purchase the Prevail in addition to the Kaylana SY 21 which is now skippered by Kevin Munro and his crew with both vessels landings into the Stornoway factory.

“Without the contribution provided by Macduff it would not have been possible to own the two vessels. Prevail gives a safer working environment for my crew and I, and the refrigerated hold will provide greater flexibility to fish further offshore during periods of reduced catches on inshore grounds.”

Quality orientated developments in Stornoway factory

Since taking over from Youngs Seafoods on 11th September 2013, Macduff have invested in a range of new prawn processing machinery, including a new grading line and packaging equipment.

These developments were part of the initial plan to take out heavy lifting in order to streamline processing, at the same time as delivering a marked transition to whole prawns to gain more value from the predominantly same day quayside landings at Stornoway.

Under the previous management scheme, the Stornoway factory produced predominantly tails for the scampi market. To increase product value and reduce the amount of work required by fishermen and factory staff alike, Macduff immediately placed a near total emphasis on whole prawn products. As a result, 90% of the factory’s throughput is now whole prawns, in line with customers’ requirements, compared to just 10% a year ago.

Lorraine Pears, Macduff’s Stornoway factory manager told Fishing News that the skippers and crews of the Stornoway fleet were extremely co-operative in working with the company to achieve the marked change of direction to whole prawns.

“Although this required some revision of their previous working practices and fishing patterns, they immediately realised that doing so would help them to secure more consistent prices.

“Boats now land every 24 or 36 hours, after which the freshly caught prawns are immediately collected from the secure market chill before being washed, grading and packaged ready for final export.

“The level of prawn landings to Macduff’s factory at Stornoway factory doubled in the first year of operation. All supplies of prawns are completed in the same working day as they enter the factory. A full review of the factory’s freezing facilities will be made before the end of this year, after which further upgrades will be implemented.

“When the ongoing investment programme in the processing factory is completed, together with the more modern class of vessel now joining the local fleet, we are confident of recording a threefold increase on the original starting point by 2015.”

“Macduff have established excellent working relations with fishermen to promote direct marketing of special superior products we deliver daily by working as an integrated team. Even when supplies of prawns hit record levels at Stornoway earlier this year, prices remained stable, which is a reflection of the quality product now being produced.

“All the shellfish products packaged here in Stornoway are delivered to Macduff’s factory at Mintlaw for final distribution to Europe.”

Macduff’s managing director, Roy Cunningham, added that he is proud of what has been achieved in a short space of time.

“That’s been down to teamwork and a recognition that the supply chain needs to work together to deliver sustained success – in the factory, on the boats, through the WIFA and with the CnES.

“There’s much more to do but it provides us with the platform for sustainable growth that we were looking to achieve.

The Stornoway factory saw record breaking volumes of langoustines being processed on the Island and increased staff numbers to help it cope during the summer. As well as langoustines, the team is now receiving and processing Western Isles scallops. The business is also supporting the sourcing of brown crabs and whelks which go to Macduff’s Mintlaw facility for processing.

“Now that  significant progress has been made with the fleet, it’s time to look at the processing efficiency and product development opportunities required to develop this collaborative supply chain.

“Strategic investments have already been made to the processing capabilities within the Stornoway factory but the long term aim of Macduff is to add even more value into the processing and product prepared in Stornoway.”