Scottish seafood exports halted until next week
Scottish produce is in demand on the continent
UPDATE 14 Jan: Fresh Scottish seafood deliveries to the EU have been suspended until next week amid mounting red tape caused by the Brexit changeover.
Problems continue over health checks, IT systems and customs documents. French buyers have turned away trailer loads of langoustine and salmon worth tens of thousands of pounds this month because they took too long to arrive.
Under new rules every box has to be inspected and verified by vets before it leaves Scotland.
Complaints that a normal one-hour check has become five hours were first raised last week and continue to frustrate suppliers and deliverers as fears rise of firms being forced out of business.
Boris Johnson is understood to have pledged a £100 million compensation fund for UK fisheries to help the seafood industry deal with the impacts of export hurdles caused by Brexit.
Jimmy Buchan, chief executive of the Scottish Seafood Association, said: “We welcome Boris Johnson’s unequivocal promise of compensation for fisheries businesses affected by the nightmarish bureaucratic hurdles that have been erected since 1 January.
“This is just what we have been calling for in numerous meetings with government officials over the past few days. We now look forward to engaging with the Government on the detail of the package on offer and working with both the UK and Scottish governments to clear the path for exports to resume as normal.”
In the meantime, fishing businesses continue to be plagued with problems and have threatened to dump fish at the doors of parliament unless the problems are resolved.
Jamie McMillan of Lochfyne Seafarms warned the PM that “if Scottish exporters can’t get their product to market next week, we will be at the gates of (the Palace of) Westminster and we’ll be dumping our shellfish on your doorstep, rotten.
“We are fighting for survival here. Get it sorted and get it sorted now.”
Some Scottish fishermen have stopped sending their boats out to fish. The Scottish government says the disruption has cost the industry millions of pounds in lost contracts, and meant lower prices at market. Others have pinned the blame on Scotland’s failure to get its systems in place.
DFDS has suspended its groupage export service which allows several exporters to group products together in a single consignment. It said it wanted to fix IT issues and train more staff in new procedures.
It expects deliveries to resume next Monday, but remains concerned that the process will continue to be longer than ideal.
It said: “By working together we aim to have a robust service running very soon again.”
Donna Fordyce, chief executive at Seafood Scotland said around one third of the Scottish fleet is currently tied up and prices are falling sharply.
“Many species of Scottish seafood have experienced a price drop of around 40-50% at market this week,” she said.
“This is because processors and intermediaries are not buying, as they are not guaranteed to be able to sell seafood on to EU customers because they can’t get it out the UK.
Donna Fordyce: ‘not a sustainable position’
“In some cases the price drop has been up to 80%, but this is stabilising only because there is less fish being landed. It is not a sustainable position.”
She said one Scottish seafood company which normally sends £1m worth of product to the EU every week managed to get £12,000 of product into the EU last week. As a result, the firm has told the 27 boats that supply it to stop fishing.
“Some boats that are still fishing are redirecting their catch landing to Denmark, where it can more easily progress to European markets as there is little or no demand in Scotland with the current crisis.
“This means that the Scottish processing sector, which employs around 10,000 people, is completely missed out of the equation. We need to get these boats back landing in Scotland ASAP and we need the processors back operational and selling seafood into the EU in order to do this.”
Ms Fordyce added: “We are calling, once again, upon the UK and EU to grant companies a six-month grace period in relation to the raft of new paperwork they are now required to complete.
“Administrative errors are a major contributing factor to the current chaos and this six-month window will allow the systems that process the paperwork to be fixed and tested while not in live operation.”
Scotland Office minister David Duguid rejected the call, saying the problem needed to be worked through and IT problems fixed.
The Cabinet Office minister, Michael Gove, has called for action to ensure perishable goods have the smoothest possible access to European and other markets.
Call for ‘nativity’ minister to resign
The SNP has called on the UK Fisheries Minister Victoria Prentis to resign after she admitted during a House of Lords evidence session that she had not fully read the details of the Brexit deal because she was “very busy organising the local Nativity trail”.
Philippa Whitford, SNP Brexit spokesman, said: “Due to Brexit-induced bureaucracy, Scotland’s fishing communities are already experiencing severe disruption and cannot get their produce to their customers in the EU market on time.
“Having already lost thousands of pounds in discarded seafood, many boats in my constituency are now tied up in the harbour.
“For the Tory government’s Fisheries Minister to then admit that she did not even bother to read the details of the damaging deal because she was too busy is unbelievable and makes her position untenable.”