Oban shellfish firm’s pledge as produce faces ruin

Scallops from the North East Atlantic can be found in fish markets in Europe, including Venice. Photograph: Joanne Simms.

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An Oban businessman who could be facing losses in excess of £200,000 because of the UK-French border crisis has pledged to pay local fisherman.

Paul Knight owns PDK Shellfish Limited at the South Pier, which buys shellfish and exports it throughout Europe.

Yet lorries from Scotland loaded with thousands of pounds of live produce could see the seafood ruined after the border was closed to accompanied UK freight for 48 hours bringing the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel to a standstill.

It followed an announcement by the UK Government on Saturday that London and the south east would move into tier four due to the spread of a virulent strain of the coronavirus.

Mr Knight said fortunately three lorries from PDK in Oban, carrying produce worth £350,000, managed to get through before the deadline.

At the time of going to press, drivers remained on the other side of the channel trying to get back, with an outgoing lorry also caught up in the snarl-up at Portsmouth.

PDK Shellfish Limited is just one of many companies which relies on being paid on an ‘alive when it arrives’ deal with its European buyers. Mr Knight, originally from Mull, employs 18 people in Oban, and set up with a van as a teenager in 1998.

Mr Knight said: ‘Can I take a £200,000 hit and not fold – yes, I can. It will be paid for. I will not let the company fold. The fisherman will be getting paid regardless of what happens and my view is that they sold in good faith and my job now is to get it to market.’

However, he also said that he could not pay out indefinitely as the company could not keep absorbing continual losses of that magnitude. PDK is responsible for every kilo of shellfish it transports and at Christmas, the prices per kilo rises ‘four to five’ times.

The money help fisherman from the islands and the West Coast survive the New Year months when demand for shellfish plunges and fishing is curbed by the weather.

Mr Knight said: ‘We buy the shellfish from pretty much all over the islands and transport it back to Oban to be packed and loaded onto lorries for the customer and then sent to France and Spain.’

The company intends to make more deliveries this coming week but may miss the crucial Christmas period. Mr Knight said he was making every mitigation possible.