Seafood firms racking up ‘£1m losses a day’ – MSP

Maree Todd MSP meets a local fisherman, prior to the latest lockdown restrictions.

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Brexit and its  ‘devastating impact’ on Scotland’s fish and seafood exporters has been slammed by Highlands and Islands MSP Maree Todd.

The SNP representative said businesses had been left on the ‘brink of collapse’ and had reported losses of more than £1 million a day.

Extensive paperwork and red tape have created barriers to trade in Europe since New Year’s Day in a sector which depends on getting fresh produce to customers as quickly as possible.

Ms Todd said businesses were given just a few days’ notice to prepare for the end of the transition period after the UK Government struck an 11th hour deal with the EU on Christmas Eve.

Ms Todd said: ‘Having grown up in Ullapool, I understand the devastating impact these delays will be having on businesses and livelihoods which depend on fisheries as a source of income.’

She has written to the Cabinet Office, Michael Gove and George Eustice, to communicate the realities of an ‘extreme Brexit deal’ on the Highlands.

She suggested that a ‘six-month grace period’ should have been agreed with the EU to help adjust – as the Scottish Government had pushed for.

‘What we’re seeing now is a once-thriving and lucrative industry literally being left out to rot,’ she said.

On Tuesday, DEFRA announced that seafood exporters UK-wide would receive access to up to £23 million of government funding.

It said the money was designed to support businesses most adversely affected by the pandemic and the new requirements for exporting.

But critics condemned it as a drop in the ocean compared to the losses, and there are also concerns that claiming funds could prove bureaucratic.

Ms Todd commented: ‘To put that in perspective, the Scottish Government delivered £23.5 million to the Scottish sector alone in response to Covid-19 last year.

‘The Scottish Government was not consulted on this funding package and is yet to see its full details, but it appears that not all businesses will be covered, such as fishing vessels which land but don’t export directly.’

DEFRA has published nine different ways it said it had supported the sector.

It added: ‘Support will be available immediately and paid retrospectively to cover losses incurred since January 1, 2021.

‘The scheme will be targeted at small and medium enterprises and the maximum claim available to individual operators will be £100,000.’

‘In addition to funding, the UK Government will provide further support to businesses in adapting to new export processes.

‘DEFRA and HMRC will be offering targeted, proactive and hands-on support to fisheries exporters to help them successfully meet the new requirements.

‘This includes a new training package and focused workshop sessions.’