'A challenging 72 hours': Scottish seafood industry still dealing with Brexit chaos

SCOTTISH seafood providers are still suffering from the consequences of customs arrangements in the wake of Brexit, according to an industry expert. James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink, said it had been "a very challenging 72 hours". Some fishing and seafood companies complained on social media yesterday that the export arrangements are a "shambles".

READ MORE: Scots seafood industry lashes out at Tory Brexit 'shambles' Withers said these issues "sadly come as little surprise" but that there has been "a major collective effort" to overcome the problems. "It has been a very challenging 72 hours with industry and the authorities adjusting new, complex trading rules without having had any time to properly test them.

We have warned for months about the lack of preparation time for everyone involved and these problems sadly come as little surprise," he said. "There are now a lot of bureaucratic steps to navigate in getting product from Scotland into France and small delays at different points can quickly cause major problems for a set of products whose value relies on getting to European markets within 24 hours." Withers went on: "We have been working very closely with Food Standards Scotland, Scottish Government and partners across industry to work through delays at Larkhall.

"The prioritisation of simpler loads of single types of seafood, such as salmon, will be a big step forward. That will allow the focus to switch to more complex loads such as those that contain different products and batches from different businesses." The Scottish Seafood Association, which represents processors, warned yesterday that problem is likely to get worse in the coming days as the pace of trade increases.

Withers added: "There is no doubt that some seafood companies are struggling with the new paperwork requirements, as we knew would be the case. This is slowing the checks that have to be undertaken by law before lorries can be despatched from Larkhall to the English ports. There is a big exercise happening over the next couple of days with exporters to work through the common issues arising with incomplete or wrong paperwork.

"There have also been significant IT problems on the French side of the Channel. This has led to lorries being diverted to different border inspection points and then being held up. The French authorities assure us these systems are now fixed but this will need closely monitored over the coming days."

READ MORE: Scots food and drink bosses says Tories must act now to get vital exports to EU He concluded: "There is a major collective effort to work through all this between industry and government. That is critical because the knock-on effect of disruption is significant and can grind the seafood supply chain - from fishing boats to haulage - to a halt very quickly.

"On the back of a horrendous 2020 and a nightmare before Christmas due to the French border closure, the financial impact of that would be grave for many." Jimmy Buchan, chief executive of the Scottish Seafood Association, said yesterday: "Trucks laden with fresh seafood are being held up in central Scotland due to problems with customs barcodes and lack of veterinary service capacity. "Instead of representative samples being removed from trucks and checked, entire trailers are being emptied so that every box and label can be checked.

"Combined with computer problems on both sides of the English Channel, this is a worrying sign for the days and weeks ahead when the flow of produce will get much greater." When the border with France was closed in December due to the new coronavirus strain emerging in the UK, the association warned that perishable seafood could go to waste if it was stuck in transit. Following the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31, new rules around trade between the UK and EU came into force.

While little disruption was reported in the early days of the new arrangements, the volume of cross-border trade is expected to increase. SB Fish, which is based at Troon in South Ayrshire, tweeted on Wednesday that none of their trucks bound for France had left a haulage hub. They said: "Not one single Truck has left from our Hauliers/Hub.

It's now becoming a complete shambles."

Lochfyne Sea Farms - based in Tarbert, Argyll and Bute - replied to the tweet, saying: "Shambles is an understatement taking 3 days to deliver live product to France is a joke, we warned against these problems and it's worse than we imagined, business is no longer viable if we can't get our product to market in time."

Shambles is an understatement taking 3 days to deliver live product to France is a joke , we warned against these problems and it's worse than we imagined , business is no longer viable if we can't get our product to market in time @FergusEwingMSP @Feorlean @scotfoodjames

-- Lochfyne langoustines Ltd & Lochfyne seafarms Ltd (@LochfyneLangous) January 6, 2021

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