Fishing communities are still counting the costs of lost business resulting from the new bureaucratic requirements for them to export seafood to the EU market and the UK government is in ‘denial’, industry leaders told UK lawmakers on Thursday (4 February).
Fishermen are “beginning to get goods into the EU so we’re not going to say we’re not moving any seafood,” Jimmy Buchan of the Scottish Seafood Association told the House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee.
“Seafood is beginning to flow and each day is an improving situation but it’s far from being perfect, said Buchan, adding that “the government is still in denial, these are not teething problems.”
In 2019, fish exports to the EU, worth £1.4 billion, made up 67% of all fish exports from the UK, while £1.2 billion worth of fish were imported from the bloc.
The UK fishing sector was expected by Boris Johnson’s government to be one of the main beneficiaries from the UK leaving the EU and its Common Fisheries Policy, with ministers claiming that UK fishermen could have additional fishing opportunities worth more than £750m thanks to Brexit.
Instead, however, the industry has struggled to cope with the new customs processes caused by the UK’s new trade agreement with the EU, resulting in protests outside Downing Street.
The Westminster government has already promised a £23 million fund to help fishing businesses affected by Brexit delays following reports of seafood rotting on docks before it can be exported to the EU.
However, that offer of financial support was described as “a sticking plaster at best” by James Withers of the industry lobby group Scottish Food and Drink.
“The industry asked, pleaded, for a grace period, and that plea really fell on deaf ears, we feel,” Withers told MPs.
Withers added that the difficulties were “a very predictable outcome of trying to test the multi-billion-pound new trading system in real-time in the midst of a pandemic.”
Buchan suggested that an EU customs post be established in Scotland so that paperwork could be dealt with before lorries set off for Kent and the channel ports with live seafood. He also called for a grace period during which products would be exempted from EU customs processes.
The fishing industry is losing an estimated £1 million per day due to new paperwork requirements to export their product to the EU market, prompting many fishing businesses to reduce their daily catch until the problems are resolved.
Douglas Ross, a committee member and leader of the Scottish Conservative party, said the devolved Scottish National Party government in Edinburgh had spent only 75% of the £200 million allocated by the UK Treasury on Brexit preparations, implying that there are more funds available to help fishermen.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]