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Channel crisis disrupts export of seafood

Robert Williamson of QA Fish - Photo: Hans J Marter/ShetNews

THE CRISIS affecting freight traffic crossing the channel between Dover and Calais is having a detrimental impact on the export of fish from Shetland, with one supplier currently unable to send produce to buyers in Italy and Switzerland. 

Robert Williamson of Scalloway-based QA Fish said the tailbacks delaying lorries trying to reach the European continent was regularly meaning delays of around 24 hours.

Disruption to ferries due to industrial action at the French port of Calais has resulted in congestion with freight lorries stuck in lengthy queues on motorways in Kent.

Migrants camping in France while seeking to reach the UK have attempted to take advantage of the situation – resulting in disruption to Eurotunnel services.

So-called ‘Operation Stack’, which police say is an emergency measure, has become increasingly commonplace in the past few weeks. Williamson said the situation was costing QA Fish valuable business.

“We have customers in Italy, Spain and Switzerland, and just by the fact that we can’t guarantee the delivery is going to be on time, they’ve stopped buying at the moment,” he said.

“The customer in Italy has not bought now in about four or five weeks, and that was a definite order every week. And we supply a supermarket chain in Switzerland – but if the goods is late they just reject it.

“We did send an order to them at the end of last week and it was a day late, and they were wanting to reject it – we did get them spoken around to accept the goods, but it just creates a huge problem.

“It’s scallops that we’re sending to Switzerland and it’s a high value product, so you’re not wanting any rejection of it – it’s too risky at the moment to be sending it.

“The Spanish market is not just so bad. As long as the goods arrive, they’re okay, and usually it is arriving within 24 hours, but it is [generally] creating a big problem.”

Williamson said delays of anything from six to 10 hours were now regular, and it was vital to return to a situation where the tunnel is “working how it used to work”.

A few hours of delay often means that by the time the produce reaches Boulogne, just south of Calais, it has missed onward transport connections “so it becomes a full 24 hours late”.

“There’s a lot going on in France,” Williamson said. “At the end of last week the workers were blockading the ferry port in Calais which has an impact on trucks going by ferry instead of by tunnel – there seem to be a lot of things going on that needs to be resolved.”

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said he would be writing to the Scottish Government pressing for “concerted action” to help the seafood industry and hauliers.

“This cross channel crisis has turned the south of England into a gigantic lorry park,” he said. “The government needs to make sure products that have a limited shelf life get to the front of the queue.

“Fish products depend on being fresh, arriving on time and the consistency of service. All these factors are being hit by the crisis.”

The French government expects the number of migrants wanting to get into the UK will remain high, Scott said, so it needed to have a “long term plan to get trade moving”.

“Otherwise our fish exports businesses such as QA Fish, who are very important to the Shetland economy, will be forced to find different routes into continental Europe,” he said.

Scott added: “Unlike their mainland counterparts, Shetland businesses already have the added time and cost of the 12 hour ferry journey to Aberdeen, therefore it is vital that a solution is found.”