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BPA: Government must act immediately on seafood exports

Monday, 18 January 2021 | 01:00

The British Ports Association has written to Ministers about the continuing issues affecting seafood exports to the EU. At an urgent meeting of 20 fishing ports from across the UK on Friday, numerous serious issues were raised with new processes that are affecting landings and undermining the fisheries sector.

Issues exporting seafood to the EU are affecting UK fishing ports’ competitiveness and must be addressed immediately. The BPA has joined calls for compensation for those negatively affected. Many ports have reported that boats usually landing into their harbours are either tied up or landing elsewhere, directly into the EU. The BPA is alarmed that this may become a longer term trend, with red tape permanently compromising competitiveness.

Those boats that are landing into the UK are finding that prices have collapsed for product heading to export markets amid concerns about its ability to get there on time. Fishing ports typically charge an ad valorem fee on landings to fund infrastructure and services that is foundational to the industry. Among the issues raised by ports so far are:
The administrative burden on seafood exports to the EU has meant that some have stopped altogether, hopefully for the short term. Even exporters that have their paperwork in order can face issues if their seafood is grouped with others who have even minor errors in their forms. This has a bigger impact on smaller businesses who cannot fill or afford entire lorries and rely on groupage.
The extremely strict application of rules – some of which existed before the end of the transition – by authorities including:
Complex, confusing, and constantly changing requirements from UK and EU authorities and the lack of an adjustment period to a border operating model that was still being rolled out the day before the end of the transition period. Guidance from UK government for exporters is inadequate and ports have been unable to get answers or contact officials or get satisfactory answers.
The lack of enough environmental health officers at ports.

Ports have reported that exporters have found that catch certificates do not have the full list of species or export criteria listed, meaning that some are held at EU customs posts. EU countries are enforcing existing rules and imposing new ones, such as a requirement that seafood be packed in polystyrene boxes instead of the usual plastic, adding significant costs and presenting a barrier that would likely end direct landings into some UK ports.

Commenting, Mark Simmonds, Director of Policy, at the British Ports Association said:

The issues that are unfolding with seafood exporters are a disaster for the fisheries sector and the coastal communities that rely on them and must be addressed immediately.

Many ports have eaten into cash reserves to see them through difficult times, hoping that the end of the transition period would present the promised opportunity instead of more pain. Instead, once again both the volume of landings and prices are collapsing because of issues that we and others have been warning about and were entirely foreseeable. This means that many boats are either tied up or no-longer landing directly into UK ports.

Our concern is that these issues become the norm over the long-term, permanently undermining the competitiveness of UK fishing ports. We are therefore putting forward a series of urgent proposals to Ministers to remedy the situation.

The BPA Fishing Ports Group has put the following proposals to UK Ministers:

  • An urgent improvement in the guidance offered by UK Government to seafood exporters and consideration of direct temporary Government support to traders. Exporters are telling ports that the guidance on the gov.uk is not good enough and often goes round in circles.
  • Immediate provision of more, trained Environmental Health Officers at all required ports. Local authorities do not have a statutory duty to provide EHOs and the shortage is adding delays. Government should step in to plug this gap in the short term.
  • Easements on seafood export processes.
  • Urgent discussions with EU counterparts, particularly France, about a pragmatic approach to enforcement.
  • Financial support for ports that underpin the UK fisheries sector and have been repeatedly hit by volatile prices and volumes in line with the €637m Brexit Adjustment Reserve that the EU has provided to 10 member states.
  • Renewed efforts to encourage UK supermarkets to sell more UK seafood.
  • BPA Fishing Ports Group Brexit Priorities

The BPA’s fishing ports group agreed three priorities after the 2016 referendum:

  • Continued barrier-free access to EU markets
  • Continued access to fisheries funding
  • Increased landings into UK ports
  • We are seriously alarmed that at least two of these objectives seem to moving in the wrong direction and have called on Ministers to meet with us to discuss our proposals at the earliest opportunity.
    Source: British Ports Association

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