A new nationwide award scheme in the UK aimed at recognising increased quality and safety in seafood processing is being introduced in a bid to improve standards.
The scheme is the brainchild of Seafish, the UK seafood industry representative body, and aims to reward companies that provide good quality seafood produced in a first class environment.
Currently, the UK seafood processing sector sustains around 540 companies, from small companies to major players like Youngs and Birds Eye Walls, and employs around 21,000 workers full-time.
Seafish chief executive John Rutherford said: "Consumption of seafood is on the up with a steady rise of 6 per cent in sales in recent years. To satisfy this demand, we must meet the highest standards of production.
"The Seafish Quality Processor award helps do that by setting a recognised UK standard that is independently audited and geared towards the 21st century marketplace.
"The award will not only help drive up standards throughout the chain, it's also an important marketing tool. Running a small processing business is fiercely competitive and our message to managers is to be a part of it as maintaining standards will help put your business a step ahead."
The Quality Processor award is tailored in particular towards small-to medium-sized businesses operating in the first stage of the processing chain. Seafish has said that it will offer advice to companies to help them prepare for the award. It is investing almost £250,000 (€400,000) over the next three years to establish the scheme and grant-aid audit costs for successful companies.
The awards have been keenly received by a number of key figures in the UK seafood industry. Robert Milne, secretary of the Scottish Fish Merchants' Federation, said: "Our processing industry works hard to ensure that it meets the high standards expected of a modern food business. Now with this award, they have the opportunity to be recognised for their efforts at a national level."
Mike Mitchell, technical manager at Young's Bluecrest Seafood, said the award was "a significant step forward" for the fish processing industry in the UK.
To qualify for the award, each processor will go through an independent audit covering all aspects of the factory's operation including premises, machinery and equipment, hygiene standards and management controls.
The award scheme has an entry level and a higher level aimed at continuous improvement. Companies qualifying will be able to use the Seafood endorsement logo to promote their businesses.
More information on the award can be obtained at www.seafood.co.uk.