As the UK’s largest fishing port, Peterhead may be steeped in tradition but new investment reflects its appetite to exploit opportunities in the renewables sector, writes Colin Cardwell
Peterhead port has a long and intriguing history, one that spans four centuries as a home for the whaling, herring and white fish fleets.
Later, its strategic position gave it a new, significant role in servicing the offshore oil and gas sector and like other major North Sea ports it’s now actively exploiting enormous opportunities as it undertakes a vital transition to renewable energy.
Peterhead Port Authority (PPA), founded in 2006, is a Trust Port that reinvests all the profits it generates into maintenance and development of the ports infrastructure and services and Simon Brebner, Chief Executive since 2018, says its continuing success has been built on hard work, experience, innovation and investment in a sector that has weathered many storms in recent years.
Peterhead is the UK’s largest fishing port, with a market capacity of 10,000 boxes and Brebner, who is from South Africa and whose experience includes senior roles, among others in South America and the Middle East, has steered the business through an ambitious £51 million investment by the Port Authority that in 2018 saw the opening of a new state-of-the art fish market by the now King Charles.
He’s encouraged by the trilateral agreement announced last month between the UK, Norway and the EU which concluded with significantly increased quotas for most North Sea stocks, estimated to worth £128 million to Scotland this year, and up from £97 million.
“We’re ideally placed to benefit from this, both in terms of certain white fish species quota uplift and the envisaged greater landings of herring and mackerel under the new Pelagic ‘Economic Link’ which means Scottish boats will be obliged to land up to half of their catch into Scottish ports by 2025,” he says.
“Our heritage is steeped in the fishing industry and this year we’ve had the highest value of fish – just under £220m – landed into Peterhead that clearly shows the fishing sector is on the road to recovery after the Covid pandemic.
“The work we’ve done on the harbour’s infrastructure, deepening it and widening the channel allows the UK’s biggest white fish fleet to land their catch at any time of the day or night, regardless of the tide, while being able to take on fuel, stock up on supplies and fish boxes, thereby achieving a fast turnaround before heading back out to the fishing grounds.”
In addition, the port has achieved the highest possible rating from the British Retail Consortium Global Standards of Accreditation in food hygiene and safety, used by more than 22,000 certificated suppliers in 123 countries. Further boosting PPA’s comprehensive services, last summer it assumed ownership of Peterhead Ice Company.
“Acquiring a commercial business is not something we would normally do as a Trust Port,” explains Brebner.
“But ice is critical to the fishing industry, our core business and we are building a brand-new facility that should be in operation later this year.”
Fish hauls valued at £220m were landed at Peterhead last year
The port also has a state-of- the-art ship repair facility that can accommodate boats up to 2,000 tonnes for inspection, repair, maintenance or survey. Last year’s ScotWind leasing round, the world’s largest commercial round for floating offshore wind presents more opportunities.
“We are in a geographical sweet spot to be part of that whole supply chain,” says Brebner, noting that the port has been supporting Equinor’s Hywind offshore wind farm, the world’s first floating wind farm five miles off Peterhead since 2017.
“The crew transfer vessel is stationed here at Peterhead and we’ve also accommodated some of the structures for the Aberdeen Offshore Wind Farm,” he says.
Existing facilities and skills in the oil sector are helping PPA become a major hub for serving the offshore renewable energy market, in which Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) will play a key role.
NECCUS (pronounced nexus) was established in 2019 recognising the fact that industrial decarbonisation is the vital next step for tackling climate change.
He believes that this is a further exciting development as Peterhead is part of the Scottish cluster in the Acorn project which is supporting the decarbonisation of industrial clusters across the UK at the St Fergus Gas Terminal near the town which is conservatively expected to manage more than 60 per cent of the UK Government’s overall CO2 capture and storage capacity.
With its tanker jetty which will be repurposed to take in bulk C02 imports and hydrogen exports he expects Peterhead will be a key player in energy transition, while it has also made significant investments in improving its own sustainability measures and reducing its carbon footprint.
It is, he adds, equipped to play a major part in the decommissioning of North Sea platforms in a potential multi-billion market over the next 40 years, hosting projects associated with companies such as Boskalis, DeepOcean and SubSea 7, with most of the work undertaken at Smith Quay where lifts of up to 500 tonnes can take place at its heavy lift pad.
As one of Scotland’s most renowned hubs from which to visit historic sites such as Slains Castle, Castle Fraser and Haddo House, to world recognised golf courses plus – with more than more than half of Scotland’s single malt whiskies distilled in the surrounding area the harbour attracts more of the ‘boutique’ type of cruise ship visits than neighbouring ports such as Shetland and Orkney.
This all adds up, says Brebner, to Peterhead being recognised as one of the UK’s most versatile ports, providing exceptional all-weather, deep-water berthing facilities at depths of up to 14 metres.
“In 2023 we’re continuing to focus on areas in which we need to further grow as a Trust Port both in our fishing and O&G businesses while being a key player in the crucial green energy sector – and I believe we are in a very good position to achieve that,” he says.