Seafood exporters are facing a disaster as border delays and increased paperwork has hit their exports to the EU. Scottish salmon is the UK’s largest food export and inshore fishing is vital to the sustainability of many of Scotland’s coastal and island communities
SNP MSP Maree Todd, who represents the Highlands and Islands region has called for the UK Government to take immediate action to rectify the situation at UK ports, following reports that fish and seafood exporters are experiencing extensive delays due to post-Brexit bureaucracy. The coastal and island communities of the Highlands and Islands has been hit extremely hard by this recent disaster for their sector coming as the industry tries to recover from the economic calamity of covid.
Maree Todd, said:
“Many livelihoods in our islands are reliant on fisheries, which is why I am so deeply concerned to hear of the backlogs and delays currently being experienced at various borders.
“We were promised ‘frictionless trade’ by the UK government, yet here we are, two weeks after Brexit, and one of our most valuable food exports are under threat.”
Some of the issues exporters are facing at various borders include excessive sampling for Export Health Certificates, a lack of Environmental Health Officers (EHO) present at the border and EHO’s inappropriate working hours. This red tape is leading to overnight delays, causing tonnes of perishable goods wasted and millions of pounds lost as a result.
The leaders of all of Scotland’s main food and drink bodies – including Scotland Food and Drink (SF&D), the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) and Seafood Scotland (SS) – wrote to the Prime Minister in November appealing for a gradual implementation period for the new rules, but without success.
They now believe the Brexit deal, which was agreed by the UK and the EU on Christmas Eve: just a week before the new regulations came into effect, gave businesses no time to prepare for the huge changes necessary to get produce to the continent.
Tavish Scott, Chief Executive of the SSPO, said:
“Had a deal been concluded even a couple of months ago, that would have given our producers and hauliers the time to test out the new systems, trial the paperwork and get everything in place.
“As it is, we have had lorry loads of salmon stuck in Scotland, waiting for the right paperwork, we have seen delays in France because of IT problems in bringing in whole new systems and confusion everywhere.
“Our members are resourceful and have been trying everything they can to get fish to customers in Europe, including new routes, but every delay forces the price of our product down and hands the initiative to our international competitors.”
Industry experts such as the Communities Inshore Fisheries Alliance have described the current situation as ‘unacceptable’ and a threat to the livelihoods of those working in the fishing industry and its supply chains.
Seafood Scotland have also warned that “in a very short time, we could see the destruction of centuries old market which contributes significantly to the Scottish economy.”
Donna Fordyce, Chief Executive of Seafood Scotland, said:
“All our producers have been working incredibly hard to work through all the extra red tape which has been put in place since January 1 but it is an almost impossible task given the lack of preparation time.
“The UK Government has to realise the enormous difficulties that have been placed in the way of exporters simply because there wasn’t a workable system in place by the end of Brexit transition, despite numerous warnings that there would be issues.”
In 2018, it was estimated that fish and seafood exports were worth around £944 million to Scotland’s economy.
Maree Todd said:
“Unfortunately, this debacle confirms what we already knew, Brexit will and is causing serious and lasting damage to jobs and businesses across the Highlands & Islands, at a time where unemployment is already soaring.
“The UK government must act immediately to rectify the issues at the border and ensure seamless trade for exporters.”
Reporter: Fiona Grahame