To work towards the continual improvement of the UK Seafood Innovation Fund (SIF) throughout its life, an independent evaluation is being conducted alongside the full 3-year programme. The evaluation is designed to provide continuous feedback to guide the programme’s evolution. External reviewers – Risk & Policy Analysts Limited (RPA), ABPmer, and Ichthys Marine – have been contracted by Cefas to conduct this evaluation. Details of the specific objectives can be found in our previous blog here.
The evaluation team have recently delivered a report on the processes and initial impacts of the programme. The report summarises the results of surveys and interviews with applicants, assessors, members of the Steering Group, Board, and wider stakeholders across the UK seafood sector.
April 2021 marks the second anniversary of the launch of the innovation programme. Two calls for applications have been run and over £7.6M awarded for 57 feasibility and full research and development projects across the seafood sector. The success of delivering the SIF programme across the UK has been highlighted, with recommendations for the programme to additionally focus on innovative solutions within the seafood sector of Northern Ireland.
In terms of funding awarded, the greatest successes were seen in aquaculture, primarily in Scotland, followed by fisheries across the UK, and applications related to the supply chain and processing sectors. Seaweed applications were the least successful, and plans are in development to increase engagement and understanding of the challenges associated with these areas.
The results from in-depth case studies of three funded projects highlighted that these organisations have seen an increase in their economic productivity; have established new partnerships; and have improved the understanding and knowledge in their sector area as a result of the funding received. For one of these projects, it is anticipated that a policy change in fish welfare is likely, following the development of technology to humanely kill fish in both live catch fisheries and aquaculture.
Evidence from consultation indicates that the fund’s objectives to improve productivity through sustainability; to reduce commercial risks for investment in innovation; to encourage partnerships and collaboration; and to strengthen the evidence base for fisheries management, have been supported by the projects that were awarded funding. Projects are addressing fish welfare (including sealice and diseases), sustainable fish feeds, reductions in waste, increases in recycled plastics, electric powered boats to reduce diesel usage, and novel methods of collecting information for data-limited fisheries. Though it’s currently too early to assess the full impacts of many projects, initial findings are positive.
COVID-19 has brought many challenges, and the programme has experienced significant delays as a result. For example, the outcomes of the second call were impacted by uncertainty around Government funding caused by COVID-19 and EU EXIT. Suppliers had to deal with an increased administrative burden at what was a very difficult time with EU Exit looming and some staff on furlough schemes. The management team worked hard to provide some certainty and make the maximum amount of funding available to benefit the industry. The impact of the pandemic across different organisations has been reported and will feed into a better understanding of how to support the industry during shock events that can occur without warning.
Improvements to the application process have been made following feedback, including:
Throughout the third year of the programme, the evaluation team will be conducting interviews with more project teams that have completed their innovative research to understand the progress towards commercialisation and the initial impacts across the sector. We look forward to receiving further feedback. Thank you to all those who have engaged with this process to date; the data is extremely valuable for improving and maximising the impact of the SIF programme.