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Brexit / Fish exports to Europe picking up again

Last week’s chaos could have been avoided with better planning, local fish traders say

Whitefish landed in Shetland is again moving to Europe. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

FISH from Shetland is moving again across the Channel to customers in the European Union, the local industry confirmed this week.

Meanwhile, a £23 million support fund to compensate seafood businesses for the loss of earnings during recent export disruptions at the start of the year was announced late on Tuesday.

The scheme was cautiously welcomed by industry representatives who said they needed more time to examine the details.

While some local export businesses have been affected by the post-Brexit delays, including one Shetland-based business that lost around £50,000 when fish deliveries became stuck last week, the vast majority of seafood exporters affected are based on the Scottish mainland.

Hansen Black of fish traders Shetland Fish hailed the decision last week to temporarily tie up most of the local whitefish fleet as “proper management” that saved the industry a lot of money.

He said local companies had been prepared as much as possible for the changes imposed through Brexit, but the lateness of the trade deal made it impossible to be fully ready for the change.

“When there had been no deal by the middle of December, everybody in the industry expected they would roll on the transition period for another month [in case of a late deal], so that we could get everything in place,” he said.

The local industry is in agreement that most of the chaos of the last two weeks could have been avoided with better planning from government.

Following the two week break over the festive period the first few markets of the year are traditionally very busy with a lot of fish being moved.

Black said they managed to get their first consignment through but the second one got stuck and needed to be “re-homed in the UK”.

Karl Simpson of Simpson Fish tells a similar story, and adds that his company is unlikely to file a compensation claim.

“The deal was done on the 23 December and it would have been a pretty sensible thing for the negotiating team to say ‘we give you a derogation for exporting fish to Europe’ but they didn’t,” he said.

“Whoever decided the end of the transition period should be the 31 December (…), it really is inexcusable. It should have been either in October or at the end of January or in February when markets are quieter.”

Meanwhile, both companies have started trading again and have fish in transit to the French market in Boulogne.

On Monday more than 1,600 boxes of whitefish were landed, while there was no market on Tuesday. Following a lighter market on Wednesday, more than 2,400 boxes were sold on Thursday’s market.

Main industry haulier DFDS is said to currently guarantee three day delivery terms to France, but Black said the normal two day delivery times could soon be achieved again.

Fish trader Alistair MacPherson, meanwhile, described the system of paperwork required for exporting fish as “antiquated” and “something out of the 1950s”, and he called to streamline the system to make it fit for purpose in the third decade of the 21st century.

“The systems we are using are antiquated and they need to be brought into the 21st century,” he said.

“The French businesses are as much dependent on Scottish supplies as we are on them as a customer. The idea that they are oblivious to any pain is nonsense.

“There is no need for someone to physically sign a document twenty times in the shipment. You need a signature at the end, and it can be an electronic signature.

“I understand that all these systems are necessary, but the way they are organised can, surely, be more efficient.”