A “perfect storm” of post-Brexit red tape and coronavirus restrictions could threaten the future of the industry, said Scottish seafood exporters on Friday (8 January).
Companies face a “real challenge” with new customs checks and paperwork, on top of curbs to stop the spread of the coronavirus, said Donna Fordyce, chief executive of Seafood Scotland.
“It’s all Brexit-related,” she told BBC radio, complaining of “pinch points” in IT systems on both sides of the Channel in England and France.
“We wanted a six-month grace period where we could iron out all these issues, so that when the time came it would be frictionless,” she added.
Scottish seafood is mainly exported to market in northern France, where it is then sold on across Europe. With a live product, time is of the essence.
Exporters warned of the risk of delays, even with a tariff- and quota-free trade deal, before Britain left Europe’s customs union and single market on 31 December.
But Seafood Scotland said firms had been hit by “layer upon layer” of administrative problems which had caused “utter confusion”.
In addition, the closure of the French border before Christmas due to coronavirus fears caused lengthy delays.
Fordyce said in a statement on Thursday (7 January) that consignments risked going into landfill and the slump in exports would give fishing fleets little incentive to put to sea.
“In a very short time, we could see the destruction of a centuries-old market which contributes significantly to the Scottish economy,” she said. “It’s a perfect storm for Scottish seafood exporters.”
Jimmy Buchan, the chief executive of the Scottish Seafood Association, said earlier this week that trucks laden with fresh seafood are being held up in central Scotland due to problems with customs barcodes and lack of veterinary service capacity.
Entire trailers were being emptied so that every box and label could be checked, he said.
“Combined with computer problems on both sides of the English Channel, this is a worrying sign for the days and weeks ahead when the flow of produce will get much greater,” he added.
“Ultimately our member businesses lose revenue and prices in the market become depressed in reaction to the problems. We are at the point now where the white-fish fleet may have to stop fishing,” he said.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]