Case Studies

Isle of Harris shellfish business nets restaurant deals

A new business, dedicated to providing live shellfish to restaurants, has secured its first raft of customers in Inverness and the outlying area.

24th July 2018

Seas the Catch will now supply live lobster, crab, prawns, and crayfish caught off the coast of the Outer Hebrides, to eateries including Café One, Rocpool and the Kingsmills Hotel in Inverness and Chanterelle Kinkell and Table Manors in the outskirts.

The business, set up by three cousins who grew up fishing together on their fathers' boats off the coast of the Isle of Harris, launched last month (June) after using advice and securing an Outer Hebrides Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme (OHYES) grant from Business Gateway Outer Hebrides.

The trio – Neil MacLean and brothers, Iain and Stewart MacLean – land catch from five local boats and process the shellfish at Leverburgh Harbour in Harris before packing and shipping the live product to the mainland for consumption.

With word spreading about their venture, which they invested approximately £25k to launch, the cousins are now undertaking a feasibility study to see if they could potentially supply live produce to the leading restaurants in other parts of the country.

Neil said: “We'd come up with the idea of supplying live shellfish a few years ago and decided to test the water earlier this year, taking live samples to Inverness to gauge interest. The restaurants and chefs we spoke to were very enthusiastic, as it’s virtually impossible for them to get hold of live catch on a regular basis. Their response gave us the confidence to get started.

To be successful, we knew we needed to have a watertight business plan so turned to Business Gateway Outer Hebrides for advice.

“Because much of the shellfish landed in the Outer Hebrides is sent to Spain, where it is processed, frozen and sent back for consumption, there is no traceability. We want to change that. As we work with a select number of skippers that we know personally, our customers are not only assured of the product’s quality, they can visit our website and see exactly which boat landed the shellfish as well as where and when.

“The aim of Seas the Catch is to promote Scottish shellfish and in turn create jobs in Harris as the business grows. To be successful, we knew we needed to have a watertight business plan so turned to Business Gateway Outer Hebrides for advice. Our adviser, Fiona Chisholm, has been a great support. Not only helping us secured a £3k OHYES grant that helped us transform a shipping container into a processing plant, she asked us questions we hadn't thought about and made us look at things from a different point of view.”

Fiona Chisholm, Business Gateway Outer Hebrides, said: “Neil and his cousins are passionate fishermen, having grown up together fishing on their fathers’ boats. Spotting a gap in the market to supply live shellfish, whilst also paying the skippers they work with better rates, has helped them establish a unique venture that has the potential to grow quickly. With our help, they were able to write a robust business plan that gives them a clear path to follow. Assistance with a funding application then helped them buy specialist equipment to keep the catch in perfect condition prior to transporting to the mainland, while general business advice has also helped them get started.”

Although Iain works full-time on the mainland as a civil engineer, both Stewart and Neil skipper their own boats alongside three others, including Neil's father's boat Harmony.

Catch is landed Monday to Wednesday, with shellfish caught earlier in the week hung and tied off live in the water ready for packaging on Wednesday evening. The company then makes deliveries every Thursday, providing fresh lobster, crab, prawns and crayfish for people to eat during restaurant's busiest time of the week.

Neil said: “Our shellfish will be the freshest addition to any menu, with all processing undertaken and delivered within 24 hours of catch being brought out of the water. We want to emulate the success of the likes of Loch Fyne Oysters and Kallin Shellfish and ultimately create full-time work for ourselves and others on the island. Our main aim is to have produce leaving Harris that the island can be proud off, and in turn provide an opportunity for others to experience the wonderful flavour of the freshest Hebridean Shellfish.”

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