UK seafood exporters are suffering serious disruption to shipments to the EU for the second week since the end of the Brexit transition period, sending some fish prices plunging and prompting some fishing vessels to stay in port, industry figures said on Tuesday.
Though many in the seafood sector hope the bulk of the problems are teething issues, they highlight the challenges brought to highly time-sensitive shipments of live and fresh seafood to the EU markets that value them much more highly than UK consumers.
“On the seafood side it’s getting worse,” said James Withers, chief executive of industry group Scotland Food and Drink. “The reports are really grim.”
The end of the Brexit transition period on December 31 has also caused some disruption for French fishermen, with France’s Europe minister Clément Beaune on Tuesday accusing the UK of being too slow to provide fishing licences now needed by French boats to access British waters.
Seafood and logistics sector companies in Scotland said there were problems linking corporate IT systems with those of the UK government to generate the approvals needed to get to the vital market of Boulogne-sur-Mer in northern France, a hub for seafood sales across Europe.
Jimmy Buchan, chief executive of the Scottish Seafood Association, which represents seafood processors, said that larger companies had begun to find ways to smooth shipments to the EU, but that overall there had been little or no progress in resolving the crisis.
The problems with exports had helped to send prices for high-value export seafood such as monkfish, squid and langoustines tumbling by as much as 50 per cent, Mr Buchan said, though he stressed that the coronavirus crisis was also a factor. “The pandemic is not lending us any favours,” he said.
Industry trade body Seafood Scotland said around one-third of the Scottish fishing fleet was tied up in harbour and some other boats were choosing to land fish in Denmark instead to avoid export issues.
DFDS, a leading shipper of Scottish seafood to EU markets, said it had extended its suspension of services until Wednesday at least for smaller exporters that send shipments to France on lorries together with those of other producers, a practice known as groupage.
Nicole Seroff, DFDS head of corporate communications, said new paperwork such as customs documents and health certificates for exports to the EU was taking between eight and 16 hours per shipment.
To maintain service, DFDS had been forced to cut the number of bookings for shipments it would accept, Ms Seroff said. “By controlling volumes we [can] avoid a backlog building again,” she said.
Mr Beaune, France’s Europe minister, said Paris had contacted the UK government to ask for rapid provision of licences for French fishing boats to access British waters.
Asked about the disruption faced by companies struggling to cope with paperwork required under the new EU-UK trade deal, Mr Beaune said difficulties needed to be resolved but Brexit meant change was inevitable.
“Trade between the EU and the UK will not be the same, in its simplicity and perhaps also in its scale,” he said.” Frictionless trade does not exist, there are mechanical consequences from Brexit.”
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