Seafood exporters hit by Brexit red tape will be able to claim up to £100,000 compensation each after the UK government announced funding of up to £23 million to support businesses “which have been most adversely affected by the COVID pandemic and the challenges of adjusting to new requirements for exporting.”
“This is in recognition of the unique circumstances of the fishing sector, which has had the most significant new requirements to adjust to, and for whom even a short delay can lead to goods perishing — at a time when the industry is facing lower market prices and demand due to the pandemic,” said the UK’s Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
“The fund will be targeted at fishing export businesses who can evidence a genuine loss in exporting fish and shellfish to the EU.
“Support will be available immediately and paid retrospectively to cover losses incurred since 1 January 2021.
“The scheme will be targeted at small and medium enterprises and the maximum claim available to individual operators will be £100,000.”
The Marine Management Organisation will administer the scheme on behalf of exporters across the UK.
More details will be available on eligibility criteria in the coming days.
The UK Government said it will consult industry across the UK and work with the devolved administrations on eligibility criteria before they are confirmed.
Scotland’s Fisheries Secretary Fergus Ewing said the UK Government must ensure that its compensation package is open to all whose business has been interrupted or harmed by any aspect of the new export requirements.
Ewing said: “As feared and predicted, the new trading relationship with the EU is having a catastrophic impact on Scotland’s food and drink export industry.
“It is very clear that the UK Government should have extended the transition period as we called for, due to the pandemic and lack of progress in the negotiations.
“We have repeatedly pressed the UK Government to act quickly and compensate businesses affected by the ongoing trade issues.
“I am pleased to see they have finally recognised our calls for compensation but I remain concerned this may be too little, too late for some businesses that have been left to rot as a result of the extensive bureaucracy forced on them by a poor Brexit deal and failing UK IT systems.
“Whilst we desperately need more detail, it does appear almost certain that the vast majority of fishing vessels who land but don’t export directly will not be covered by this scheme, which is beyond any rational explanation.
“The UK Government must step up for all affected businesses.”
Seafood Scotland CEO Donna Fordyce said: “After almost three weeks of voicing their concerns and frustrations, we welcome the fact that the Scottish seafood sector has been heard and action is being taken.
“While we await the full detail of the package, we know that there will be questions around the extent to which it supports the entire supply chain, from fleet to export.
“As we currently understand it, the deal offers crucial short-term assistance and includes much to be welcomed, particularly the £23m of new funding.
“It is also reassuring to see that the processing sector is set to be included in future support packages.
“This will offer a ray of light to some small and medium sized companies that have experienced crippling losses over the past few weeks.
“However, larger companies and smaller shellfish boats are still vulnerable, and will be hoping that they can access support too.
“Money will offer a much needed sticking plaster covering the losses over the last few weeks, but to completely staunch the wound, the sector still needs a period of grace during which the systems must be overhauled so they are fit for purpose.
“It is also essential that groupage returns to a fully operational state as a matter of urgency.
“Tonight’s announcement is certainly a step in the right direction and we will continue to work with industry, partners and Government to ensure the sector gets the proactive support it so desperately needs.”