Brexit red tape could lead to the “demise” of small local fishing firms, warn industry leaders.
Seafood Scotland says the cost associated with new customs checks and paperwork since the Brexit transition period ended in January are too much for the sector to bear.
Delays at the border at the start of the year cost firms more than £1 million a day and the annual cost of new paperwork is estimated at around “£250,000 to £500,000 a year”.
Donna Fordyce, Seafood Scotland boss, told MPs she fears long-term damage is now being done to the industry.
She said: “The total time we had before Brexit was 22 hours to get to market; at the moment the best case is 28, the worst case is 39 hours.
“Customers are finding other supply chains, there are other countries waiting to take up these contracts.
“This will be a long-term loss; how will we regain these markets?”
Seafood Scotland boss Donna Fordyce tells MPs the UK's good reputation for fish exports is 'being lost day by day' due to post-Brexit delays
— Dan O'Donoghue (@MrDanDonoghue) March 2, 2021
Legacy of Brexit
In her assessment, Ms Fordyce said the legacy of Brexit could end up being the demise of smaller fishing firms.
She said: “I cannot see the new export costs being passed on to the customer and passed back to the fishermen and everybody throughout the supply chain to take their share of between £250,000-£500,000 a year.
“They don’t have that profitability to be able to do that.
“So, I think, in the medium term we will see a lot more of the smaller companies stopping trade to Europe and it may ultimately be their demise.”
Ms Fordyce explained to the Commons environment, food and rural affairs committee that a grace period was requested to allow the industry to acclimatise to new ways of operating, but such requests were ignored.
She said: “We asked for a grace period once we realised what was hurtling towards us.
“Come the start of November, we realised that there were going to be issues when we hit January 1, so we we wrote a letter to the prime minister and asked for that grace period.
“A grace period would hopefully have solved all of these issues; unfortunately, it just didn’t happen.”
In a bid to offset the cost of export delays and the need for new documentation, Boris Johnson announced a £23 million compensation scheme in January.
Ms Fordyce told MPs “there has been a lot of anger” in the processing sector, as the scheme applies only to verifiable losses so many firms were not compensated for closing down during that period.
The comments came as Chancellor Rishi Sunak faced renewed pressure to use Wednesday’s Budget to announce additional support for the industry.
The SNP’s environment spokeswoman, Deidre Brock MP, said: “The fishing industry around Scotland needs support; the crews need to replace lost income; the processors need to replace lost sales; the communities need to know that there is some hope of recovery.
“The Chancellor can’t sort their access to markets or cut the red tape but he can provide the cash to see them through.”