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Lorries queue outside Dover. Photo: BBC / PA.
Lorries queue outside Dover. Photo: BBC / PA.

The Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO) has warned that the suspension of trade routes to France could cost the industry £6.5 million in lost sales in the days before Christmas and is calling for swift action by the UK government to press for freight to resume.

France imposed a ban on accompanied goods from the UK yesterday in order to prevent the spread of a new variant of Covid-19 which is believed to be 70% more transmissible.

SSPO chief executive Tavish Scott said: “We are deeply concerned by this extremely disruptive suspension of trade routes to France. Europe is a key market for Scottish salmon and we expect the government to explore all practical options for resuming trade, including the Covid-19 testing of drivers.

Busiest week of the year

“This is the busiest week of the year with more than 150 tonnes of fresh Scottish salmon a day crossing the Channel to Europe. Without a resumption of trade, the Scottish salmon sector could lose £6.5 million in the days before Christmas.

“Plans for Operation Brock to prioritise perishable goods must be brought into action. That could help to alleviate some of the disruption.

“Meanwhile, it is evident that the UK government must seek an agreement to extend the Brexit transition period. This is the only pragmatic step to take during this unprecedented turn of events with Covid-19.”

‘Hanging by a thread’

Donna Fordyce, chief executive of Seafood Scotland, said: “The seafood sector is hanging by a thread, and this latest blow is beyond devastating.  December 21 and 22 are the busiest days of every year, as Europe traditionally enjoys premium seafood as part of their Christmas Eve celebrations – this week was to be the shining light between a horrendous 2020 and a looming Brexit transition. Many companies have been working flat out for a week to fulfil massive orders from Europe.

“Much of the seafood to fulfil these huge orders has been caught or landed and is either on the road or was about to be. Seafood companies and processors have purchased millions of pounds worth of catch for orders that won’t now see the market and being highly perishable, it can’t be shelved, or stockpiled. The companies will take the hit of the spoiled goods, and some may not survive long enough to see whether insurance pays out.  

“The sector needs urgent help. Firstly, they need the border open safely, and high-value perishables prioritised so they can hit the last markets of the year. Companies need clarity from the insurance sector as to whether losses already sustained will be covered, and they will need help from government in the short term. And finally, the last 24 hours have really brought home the urgent need for more time to prepare for Brexit. A grace period for checks and new paperwork would be enormously welcomed. In 24 hours, everything has changed and if the industry doesn’t get help now, the wider consequences could be dire.”

Priority access

The SSPO has worked with the caught fish sector over the last two years to ensure priority access to ports for seafood when the Brexit transition period ends on December 31 and Operation Brock is initiated. Based on its perishability and the long distance it already had to be carried from the north of Scotland and the islands to southern English ports, seafood has been given priority access, along with day-old chicks.

Along with whole salmon worth the £1.1m per day that would normally be exported to Europe at this time of year, other salmon products like fillets, sides of salmon and smoked salmon account for £10 million of sales in December, approximately £400,000 per day of sales.