Many Scottish fishermen have stopped exporting to European Union markets because post-Brexit bureaucracy has broken the system that used to deliver fresh langoustines and scallops to EU shops just over a day after they were harvested, Reuters reported.
Scottish seafood exporters told Reuters their companies could become unviable after the post-Brexit introduction of health certificates, customs declarations and other paperwork added huge days to delivery times and hundreds of pounds to the cost of each load.
The exporters said that in the first working week after Brexit, one-day deliveries were taking three or more days — if they got through to the EU at all.
“Our customers are pulling out,” Santiago Buesa of Troon-based SB Fish told Reuters.
“We are fresh product and the customers expect to have it fresh, so they’re not buying. It’s a catastrophe.”
Reuters reported that the Scottish seafood industry’s biggest logistics provider DFDS Scotland told customers it had taken the “extraordinary step” of halting until Monday export groupage, when multiple product lines are carried, to try to fix IT issues, paperwork errors and the massive backlog.
David Noble, whose Aegirfish buys from Scottish fleets to export to the EU, told Reuters he would have to pay up to £600 per day for paperwork, wiping out most profit.
“I’m questioning whether to carry on,” Noble said. “If our fish is too expensive our customers will buy elsewhere.”
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Friday that exporters were paying a high price for Brexit — “a particular worry for Scotland’s world class seafood sector.”
Meanwhile, on Friday the leaders of Scotland’s main seafood and food trade bodies called on the UK Government to help resolve the delays to EU exports.
The trade group said dozens of lorry loads of fish have failed to leave Scotland on time since 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.
Scotland’s salmon sector produces the UK’s biggest food export.
The leaders of all of Scotland’s main food and drink bodies – including Scotland Food and Drink, the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation (SSPO) and Seafood Scotland – said the Brexit deal, agreed by the UK and the EU on Christmas Eve, gave businesses no time to prepare for the huge changes necessary to get produce to the continent.
SSPO CEO Tavish Scott 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.”
Seafood Scotland CEO Donna Fordyce 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.”
Scotland Food and Drink CEO James Withers 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.”
In the absence of that grace period, the export leaders want the UK Government to work with the French authorities to ensure a “light-touch” approach to the paperwork “until everything settles down.”
They want both the UK and Scottish Government to liaise closely with hauliers, local authorities and the agencies dealing with the new paperwork to ensure adequate resources are in place.
The UK Government is waiving many of the border checks which should be in place for imports to the UK. The exporters said UK ministers should now work with their French counterparts to get a similar approach adopted for exports to the EU.