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SCOTTISH fishing industry leaders say they will hold the Prime Minister’s “feet to the fire” over his promise of compensation for Brexit export delays.
Thousands of pounds worth of produce has been lost so far, according to fishing companies, who say they are struggling to get their fresh seafood, salmon and white fish to the EU on time.
While some firms, such as salmon exporters, are suffering less serious consequences as a result of the issues, some shellfish firms say their stocks are spoiling before it can reach the EU markets.
Jimmy Buchan, CEO of the Scottish Seafood Association, said his members were “furious” about the problems, acknowledging it was a combination of complicated paperwork and a system which had not been tested before it went live on January 1.
He told The : “This must be resolved, as quickly as possible. The Prime Minister said businesses would be compensated. He did not say they might be, he said they would be and we’re going to hold his feet to the fire on that.
“We will not be backing down.”
It comes after Downing Street appeared to roll back on the pledge of compensation Boris Johnson had made on Wednesday during a Westminster Committee, with suggestions that he was referring to the £100m already promised before Christmas for investment in the fishing industry.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The PM has already announced a £100 million investment in the UK fishing industry to support them through this adjustment period and we have given the Scottish Government nearly £200 million to minimise disruption and guarantee business readiness.”
Asked seven times about Mr Johnson’s pledge during a debate in the Commons yesterday, George Eustice, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs minister dodged the question, saying only that “government remains open to considering compensation for sectors that might be affected through no fault of their own.”
He also referred to the issues as “teething problems” and said firms were being offered support to “iron out” the obstacles to export.
Mr Buchan said the issues were the “collective responsibility” of the industry, UK and Scottish Governments.
He said: “We’ve all got our toes in the water here. Primarily it comes under the jurisdiction of the UK Government. We’ve got to accept that some of the matters are devolved to the Scottish Government
“Both have said they were ready and prepared at several meetings leading up to the end of the year. We asked ‘Do we have the correct resources in place, can we cope?’ and at every time I w as told we could.
“Clearly within three days it became clear we couldn’t.”
Mr Buchan said that all parties had to “be absolutely honest” about the issues and “get round the table to sort it out”.
He added: “At the end of the day, the people who are losing out here are the people with business, who employ people in rural Scotland, who have no other source of income.”
Alistair Carmichael, Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland, asked Mr Eustice if he would agree to a round table discussion with other parties and businesses, however the minister said the UK Government was regularly speaking with firms about the problems they were experiencing.
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He later said Brexiteers had “dispensed” with the industry now that their deal was complete, as it was no longer any use to them.
He said:”They saw fishing as an effective campaign tool, they got what they wanted and now when the industry really needs them they are not to be found.”
Elspeth MacDonald, CEO of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, told the that the industry felt “let down” as a result of the Brexit deal, and the subsequent export chaos.
She explained:”What industry expected was that government would have had the right systems in place, operational, fully tested.
“We always knew there would be some adjustment, but we shouldn’t be having this problem.
“[To describe this as] teething problems well…if these problems go on for much longer there will be businesses that really struggle to get through this.
“This comes after a very hard year where there have been huge losses already from Covid. There hasn’t been an awful lot of fat left to trim, and so we absolutely welcome the commitment to compensation. It is really important that that money is additional to the £100 million that was agreed.”
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She added that while most businesses were pleased they were “no longer shackled” to the Common Fisheries Policy that came with EU membership, they were “hugely disappointed” by the Brexit trade deal.
Ms Macdonald explained: “My members were hugely disappointed by what came out of the deal on Christmas eve.
“It fell very far short from what the Government had committed to us and promised the industry. It has been a badly missed opportunity to really improve the fortunes of fishing industry.”
Hamish McDonell, Director of Strategic Engagement at the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, said his members were not focussing on compensation but were more concerned about getting their produce to market.
He said that while delays for salmon exporters had not left the fish spoiled, it had reduced the value of the produce by arriving late.
He warned:”We will need to improve that process and get the salmon to market quicker if we are to compete effectively with our European counterparts. Norway produces a lot of salmon, and they could take some of our markets share if these issues are not resolved soon.”
Mr McDonnell added that that salmon firms were not as badly affected as smaller companies, or those which trade in shellfish.
He said: “The problems come from a mixture of paperwork, and the overall system. There have been some issues with paperwork in France, and some IT issues, for example we were told paperwork would be accepted digitally but in France lorry drivers were being asked for the hard copies, which they didn’t have.
“But things are improving, slowly, and we hope they will get better still. The salmon sector has not been as badly affected as other smaller seafood firms, but we have experienced some delays.
“Fish may be reaching EU markets a day or two later than was previously the case and this is driving down the price, which is a concern.”