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Export delays show worst fears about Brexit impact have become reality, says Jamie Stone

By Alan Hendry

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It is estimated that more than 90 per cent of local shellfish goes for export to European Union countries.
It is estimated that more than 90 per cent of local shellfish goes for export to European Union countries.

North MP Jamie Stone has called Brexit a "catastrophe" for skippers amid growing calls for the UK government to take action over the delays that have prevented fish and seafood exports entering the European Union.

Mr Stone said his worst fears about the impact on the industry had become a reality and he raised the plight of one Caithness company that last week saw fresh produce worth £90,000 being stuck in transit.

The Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross has written to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove highlighting his concerns.

In his letter sent to Mr Gove today, Mr Stone repeated his call for the UK and Scottish governments to work together to reduce the impact of Brexit on the sector.

“The present situation is a bad dream come true," Mr Stone said. "I have continuously sought reassurances that what is happening now would not be a possible Brexit outcome.

"I take no joy whatsoever in witnessing my worst fears about the impact of Brexit on the fishing industry become a reality. It's a catastrophe for skippers across the UK.

"The UK and Scottish governments must take this dire situation seriously and sort it out for our fishing industry."

Mr Stone had earlier told Mr Gove about the problems encountered by Scrabster Seafoods after it had £90,000 worth of seafood that could not enter the European market, leaving the company to raise questions about the effectiveness of post-Brexit trade deals.

William Calder of Scrabster Seafoods described the arrangement as "simply unworkable".

Mr Calder told Mr Stone: "To date we have had no resolution to our issues with exporting. There is talk of exports opening up again on Wednesday but on the basis that only full truck loads of fish are sent.

"This is simply unworkable. Given the fact we had a full truck load sent last week, which we couldn’t get exported, we are not willing to play Russian roulette a second week given there are no guarantees the fish will get there on time.

"Businesses already severely affected by Covid are now facing the crippling impacts of an unworkable export regime where paperwork and checks are such that delays due to this are seeing a once buoyant industry disappear in a matter of weeks through no fault of its own."

Last year, Mr Gove took up Mr Stone's invitation to meet north businesses concerned about the effects Brexit might have upon their supply chains.

It is estimated that more than 90 per cent of local shellfish goes to export, primarily to France and Spain as well as Portugal.

Another Scrabster business being affected is JPL Shellfish, which employs 14 staff locally.

Christina Logue, a director of the company, said today: "We've not been able to get stuff over to France yet. We've been trying for just over a week.

"It's a bit of a worry. We need to get it sorted. The logistics companies are so overwhelmed with problems that they are not able to come back to us.

"We have got about a ton and a half we're trying to move at the moment. It's a mixture of crabs and lobsters and we need to get it shifted."

Mrs Logue said it was possible more produce would be arriving before Wednesday, when "we could have three tons that we need to shift".

She added: "We did anticipate it was going to be slow in the first couple of weeks while they were ironing things out but it doesn't really help us at this moment in time. We thought it would have been sorted out last week, but obviously not."

The leaders of Scotland’s main seafood and food trade bodies have called on the UK government to help resolve the delays.

Scottish fish exporters have expressed anger over port delays in France.
Scottish fish exporters have expressed anger over port delays in France.

Dozens of lorry loads of fish have failed to leave Scotland on time since the full Brexit regulations came into force on January 1. Confusion over paperwork, the extra documentation needed and IT problems have all contributed to delays and hold-ups.

The leaders of Scotland Food & Drink, the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation and Seafood Scotland argue that the Brexit deal – which was agreed by the UK and the EU on Christmas Eve, a week before the new regulations came into effect – gave businesses no time to prepare for the changes necessary to get produce to the continent.

Tavish Scott, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, 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.”

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.”

James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink, said: “For the last few months, we have been appealing to the UK government to agree a grace period with the EU. We wanted to see the gradual implementation of the new Brexit trade rules, a six-month bedding-in period which would have allowed exporters and the EU to adjust to the new demands.

“Instead, we have had to cope with a cliff edge with everything changing on January 1. We warned this would lead to problems but our appeals for the grace period were ignored.”

A UK government spokesperson said: "We are working closely with the industry to help understand and address the issues they are experiencing. The UK and French systems are working, but we are contacting exporters, their representatives and transporters to help them understand the requirements to keep their goods moving.

"It is vital that exporters check they have entered in details correctly and ensure that they have provided the transporter of the goods with the correct documentation."

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