The Scottish fishing industry is counting the “crippling” costs of new bureaucratic requirements to export their catch to the EU, prompting industry leaders to warn that without immediate government support there could be “permanent casualties”.
The fishing industry was at the centre of an eleventh hour compromise between EU and UK negotiators which paved the way for an agreement to be concluded on Christmas Eve. Under the deal, the UK will take back 25% of the EU’s fishing quota, with changes phased in over five-and-a-half years.
However, concerns have already been voiced by Scottish lawmakers and fishing representatives that the sector is losing £1m a day due to delays processing new paperwork for export, and reports of shellfish rotting in ports.
Speaking in the UK Parliament on Thursday, government minister Jacob Rees-Mogg played down the problems. “The key thing is we’ve got our fish back,” Rees-Mogg said.
“They’re now British fish and they’re better and happier fish for it.”
The throwaway remark prompted speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle to retort that “obviously there’s no overwhelming evidence for that.”
Unsold fish are rotting on docks, seafood companies are hitting the wall, but Jacob Rees-Mogg says what matters is that fish are now ‘happier’ because they’re ‘British’ pic.twitter.com/NGjWT4mXag
— Toby Earle (@TobyonTV) January 14, 2021
Meanwhile, other UK lawmakers complained of an “avalanche of paperwork” and “cumbersome red tape”, while Fergus Ewing, the Scottish government’s Rural Economy minister reported that Scottish fishermen are now landing their catch in Denmark to avoid the bureaucratic reporting system that exports to Europe now involve.
The fishing sector’s difficulties, reported in the early days after Britain left the EU’s single market on 31 December, are a setback for the UK government which claimed that UK fishermen could have additional fishing opportunities worth more than £750m thanks to Brexit. The UK fishing industry is currently worth around £1 billion.
For his part, Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted that the delays were “only temporary” and promised that the UK government would provide compensation for fisheries firms who risk losing out.
The government has also said it will invest £100m to modernise the fishing industry.
“It has been a dreadful start to 2021 for many seafood businesses in Scotland and some other food exporters,” said James Withers of Scotland Food & Drink.
“Some loads have been getting to the EU, but more slowly and with difficulties. Many are selling less than 10% of what they normally would be. Others though have found the door to the EU has now been shut completely,” he added.
“That is causing a real financial crisis for some. A mixture of paperwork confusion and failing IT systems has crippled a lot of the trade. It needs solutions within the next few days or we may see some permanent casualties.”
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]