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Salmon farmers urge ‘light touch’ approach to stop export delays

A huge increase in red tape is causing delays at the DFDS salmon distribution hub at Larkhall. File photo: DFDS.
A huge increase in red tape is causing delays at the DFDS salmon distribution hub at Larkhall. File photo: DFDS.

The leaders of Scotland’s main seafood and food trade bodies, including the salmon sector, have called on the UK Government to help resolve delays to EU exports which are causing significant problems.

Dozens of lorryloads of fish have failed to leave Scotland on time since the full Brexit regulations came into force on January 1, the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation (SSPO) said in a press release this afternoon.

Confusion over paperwork, the requirement for extra documentation and IT problems have all contributed to delays in Scotland and at the French border.

Huge changes

Salmon farmers and other seafood and food and drink producers have jointly appealed for a “lighter touch” approach to help exports get through to the main European markets more smoothly.

The SSPO gave a guarded welcome to the post-Brexit trade deal agreed on Christmas Eve on the grounds that it was better than no deal, but today pointed out that the timing – just a week before new rules came into effect – gave businesses no opportunity to prepare for the huge changes necessary to get produce to mainland Europe.

Every delay forces the price of our product down and hands the initiative to our international competitors

SSPO chief executive Tavish Scott
Tavish Scott: Deal came too late.
Tavish Scott: Deal came too late.

SSPO chief executive 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 lorryloads 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.”

The best laid plans...

One of the main changes of Brexit has been the requirement for all produce of animal origin which is exported to the EU to carry an export health certificate (EHC), which can only be issued by a vet of an authorised certification officer, usually an environmental health officer.

The SSPO, the caught fish sector, the Scottish Government and South Lanarkshire Council worked with transport company DFDS to create a seafood certification and export hub at DFDS’s Larkhall depot, where most of Scotland’s salmon is already exported from.

By Christmas Eve, Food Standards Scotland had recruited three out of four new staff needed to meet the EHC requirements at Larkhall, with the fourth position expected to be filled soon after New Year. Temporary staff were to be brought in to cover that position until it is filled permanently.

However, the sheer volume of extra paperwork needed has meant delays at Larkhall. This has resulted in lorry loads of seafood being dispatched late.

No figures are available for export volumes since January 1, but it is clear that the problems have already had a significant effect on exports, the SSPO said. Some salmon producers have had to postpone or cancel consignments, others have delayed harvests and also cancelled orders while others have been forced to drop prices significantly because the fish have been delayed in getting to market.

No workable system

Donna Fordyce, chief executive of Seafood Scotland, said dealing with the amount of extra red tape put in place since January 1 had been “almost impossible” for producers, given the lack of preparation time between the Christmas Eve and the start of the new year.

“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,” said Fordyce.

Industry was ignored

James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink, 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.”

Adequate resources

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 SSPO said the UK Government is waiving many of the border checks which should be in place for imports to the UK, and wants ministers to work with their French counterparts to get a similar approach adopted for exports to the EU.