Scotland’s seafood sector losing millions, warns MSP

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Calls are growing for ‘immediate action’ to help prevent Scotland’s seafood industry grinding to a halt.

Since the New Year, seafood exporters have been caught up in extensive delays due to ‘post-Brexit bureaucracy’ with a range of issues at ports and haulier hubs.

It has caused delays again for produce with a short shelf life shipped live across Europe to buyers in France, Spain and Italy, among others.

There have been reports that some export companies in Scotland have decided not to haul because of the delays in customs checks and health certificates.

That has led some fishing fleets to moor up due to no guarantee that catches will find a buyer.

The difficulties in getting produce to Europe has also resulted in a glut which has caused a corresponding price crash for fish in some areas of Scotland.

Maree Todd, who represents the SNP, said red tape was costing the vital sector millions of pounds the longer it goes on.

She called for the UK government to ‘act immediately’ to rectify the issues at the border and ensure seamless trade for exporters.

She said: ‘Many livelihoods in coastal communities across the Highlands are reliant on fisheries, which is why I am so deeply concerned to hear of the backlogs and delays currently being experienced at various borders.

‘We were promised frictionless trade by the UK Government, yet here we are, two weeks after Brexit, and one of our most valuable food exports are under threat.

‘Unfortunately, this debacle confirms what we already knew, Brexit will and is causing serious and lasting damage to jobs and businesses in the Highlands, at a time where unemployment is already soaring.

She said there has been ‘excessive sampling’ taking place for Export Health Certificates to be granted coupled with a lack of environmental health officers (EHO) in attendance.

Furthermore ‘inappropriate’ working hours for EHO’s has also combined to slow down the movement of perishable delicacies.

Trade experts including the Communities Inshore Fisheries Alliance have described the current situation as ‘unacceptable’ and a threat to livelihoods.

Seafood Scotland has warned about the potential ‘destruction of centuries old market’, while the Scottish Seafood Association said the sector faces a ‘storm within a storm within a storm’ after 2020 and now Brexit coupled with another lockdown and a border closure before Christmas.

James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink, said the UK Government said the issue is not just confined to seafood with meat exporters facing similar barriers.

‘The real concern is that EU customers just start going elsewhere,’ he said.

Seafood exports alone have been estimated to be worth £944 million to Scotland’s economy – supporting many rural and island communities.