Brexit set to hit Scottish seafood businesses hardest
Survey finds 58% of staff in Scottish fish processors came from European Economic Area countries.
Scottish seafood processing businesses are more likely to suffer from Brexit than those in the rest of the UK, fresh figures show.
A survey of 18 firms for Marine Scotland found 58% of staff in Scottish plants came from European Economic Area (EEA) countries, compared to 42% for the whole of the UK.
Polish, Lithuanian and Latvian nationals were the most likely to be employed, with the highest proportion of EEA staff (64%) working in mixed or white fish processing firms, the majority of which are found in the north-east of Scotland.
A large majority (86%) of employees working in the industry were on permanent contracts, the survey found.
Analysis of the results by Marine Scotland concluded: "As cited by the capture sector, recruiting UK nationals has become more challenging over the years, which has increased the dependency on a non-UK workforce.
"This dependency has resulted in the surveyed seafood processing businesses voicing their concerns on finding suitable and reliable labour if, when the UK exits from the EU, there are changes to the free movement of people.
"This has resulted in some businesses citing the EU exit as a significant threat to their business' operational viability."
Rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said: "This study shows how highly dependent the Scottish seafood processing sector is on EEA workers and raises concerns from processors that Brexit could threaten their businesses' survival.
"With the majority of EEA employees working on permanent contracts, and likely to be living here on a long-term basis, processors are rightly concerned for the future and the potential loss of skilled and experienced food processing employees.
"This study backs up recent analysis which found EU nationals contribute more than £4.4bn a year to our economy and shows exactly why we value the contribution they make in our communities.
"We will continue to show EU nationals that they are welcome here and call for free movement of people, which is clearly in the best interests of Scotland and the UK as a whole."