Cornish fishermen’s catches are being left to rot because a post-Brexit “brick wall of bureaucracy” is holding up exports to the European Union.
New paperwork has been introduced for all British fishermen since the UK left the EU on Dec 31, including a European Health Certificate, which proves their fish meet regulatory standards.
Getting the paperwork requires a vet who is approved by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to inspect the goods before export. But a shortage of vets is causing delays.
Information from the certificates, which must be on paper and translated into every language for each country it travels through, is manually input to an EU computer system by a customs officer 24 hours before goods can arrive.
Further delays in moving fish to the Continent arose in Calais and Boulogne, said the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, which claimed a Cornish consignment was delayed for 48 hours after hitting a “brick wall of bureaucracy” and was spoiled.
“It has been absolutely ridiculous,” said Andrew Iveson, an approved vet from Amivet in Cheshire. “The complexity of the rules and confusion over the new paperwork has led to chaos.
“Many fishermen don’t know what the rules are, who to turn to for help and are panicking. We have gone from doing 20 certificates a day to more than 300.”
He added it had been a “struggle” to get feedback and guidance from both the UK and EU on the paperwork. “You can imagine fresh food isn’t going to be fresh when it gets to Europe,” he said.
Cornish fishermen are also having problems exporting shellfish. Since Jan 1, only ready-to-eat shellfish accompanied by a European Health Certificate can be sent to the EU, as rules prevent the export of live molluscs not ready for human consumption.
Tom Knight, a shellfish merchant, said: “If it does not get sorted in the next fortnight then it’s going to get to the stage where it won’t happen before the end of the season.” Sailor’s Creek Shellfish in Cornwall usually buys £20,000 of shellfish a week to be sent abroad, but its tanks are currently empty.
Meanwhile, Scottish trawlermen have been told to catch fewer fish after Brexit red tape caused long delays exporting to the EU. “We’re now advising the catching sector to ease up,” said Jimmy Buchan, chief executive of the Scottish Seafood Association. Trucks carrying fish are facing four-hour waits to be cleared. We can’t guarantee we’ll get it into the marketplace”, he said.
Transports Mesguen, a French trucking firm that moves fish, had intended to send four trucks for export on Tuesday, but had only managed to send two because of hold-ups at customs, he said.
Mr Buchan said: “We’ve been ill-prepared. The Government hasn’t listened to the warnings the industry has continually been giving.”