Britain”s ports have called on the UK government to ease the plight of seafood exporters whose experience with post-Brexit red tape is preventing their produce from reaching EU markets.
The British Ports Association (BPA) wants ministers to seek a “pragmatic approach” with EU countries, particularly France, on enforcing new rules.
It also calls for export processes to be eased, for more environmental health officers at ports as “the shortage is adding delays”, and for better guidance as official government advice is “not good enough and often goes round in circles”.
On Monday, as seafood hauliers took their trucks to Westminster to highlight the bureaucratic snarl-up and lost revenue they have endured, Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised a £23 million (€25.8 million) compensation fund for the fishing industry. Details are expected later this week.
In its letter to ministers, the BPA asks for “financial support for ports that underpin the UK fisheries sector” similar to funds promised by the EU to coastal states under an agreed Brexit adjustment package.
The post-Brexit trade deal struck by the EU and the UK on Christmas Eve secured tariff-free, quota-free access to each other’s markets. But the UK’s departure from the EU’s trading structures has brought a multitude of other obstacles including customs declarations and regulatory checks.
Scottish fish exports — particularly reliant on smooth deliveries to the continent — are among the worst hit. Since New Year when the new arrangements came into force at end of the Brexit transition period, produce has failed to reach customers as lorries remain stuck at base, fishing boats have been “tied up in harbour”, and some prices have collapsed.
“The issues that are unfolding with seafood exporters are a disaster for the fisheries sector and the coastal communities that rely on them and must be addressed immediately,” said Mark Simmonds, the BPA’s Director of Policy.
“Our concern is that these issues become the norm over the long-term, permanently undermining the competitiveness of UK fishing ports.”
Commenting on the seafood exporters’ plight on Monday, Boris Johnson said: “I sympathise very much and I understand their frustrations”.
“Where businesses, through no fault of their own, have experienced bureaucratic delays or difficulties getting their goods through and where there is a genuine willing buyer on the other side of the Channel, and they’ve had a problem, then there’s a £23 million compensation fund that we’ve set up and we’ll make sure that they get help,” he added.
However, the prime minister also seemed to imply the problems were temporary, saying that “in so far as there are problems at the moment”, they were “caused by teething problems, people not filling in the right forms, or misunderstandings”.
He also claimed the pandemic was largely to blame and said the Brexit trade deal offered “great opportunities for fishermen across the whole of the UK”.
But, for some in the industry, the immediate outlook is far from rosy. Alasdair Hughson of the Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation says the SCFF had been “lobbying for the past 18 months to two years to say the detrimental effects that (Brexit plans) were going to have on live shellfish exports”.
“I don’t think any of us foresaw just how bad this was going to be,” he told Euronews. His company Keltic Seafare exports mainly live langoustines to France, but “due to various issues with the systems and authorisations” suffered by the transporter, his first attempted shipment this year failed to leave the yard.
“Some of the requirements that we did not have to comply with before are catch certificates which prove that a vessel has landed a given catch in the UK to begin with, leading to certificates of origin, export health certificates, various other transport documentation.”
There is also anger within fishing communities at suggestions that the industry overwhelmingly supported Brexit.
“The fishing industry is multi-faceted. Not all fishermen, certainly not small-scale shellfish fishermen, voted for Brexit because many realised the implications of doing so, which we are now trying to deal with,” Hughson said.
View the interview with Alasdair Hughson of the SCFF in the video player above.