Industry leaders said failure to properly implement the trade agreement thrashed out between the UK and Brussels meant some stock was now worthless. Delays caused by officious form-filling had seen consignments of fresh fish and seafood delayed on the Continent for up to 48 hours. The crisis meant some businesses had suspended exports because they have no confidence in the lengthy procedures.
The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO), said: “The first consignments of the year from Cornwall hit a brick wall of bureaucracy, and similar problems are being faced in relation to prawns exported from North Shields and with direct landings into Holland.
“One consignment of fish has been delayed by 48 hours with attendant loss of quality.”
Donna Fordyce, chief executive at Seafood Scotland, said: “It’s a perfect storm for exporters. Weakened by Covid-19 and the closure of the French border before Christmas, the end of the Brexit transition period has unleashed layer upon layer of administrative problems, resulting in queues, border refusals and utter confusion.”
Days after the UK and EU signed a Trade and Cooperation Agreement on Christmas Eve, British fishermen said a regulatory bottleneck had caused delays in perishable stock reaching destinations.
They revealed that crates of langoustines, scallops, oysters, lobsters and mussels had been left on the dockside.
The NFFO said: “There is no reason to believe the current difficulties won’t be resolved. The question is when and at what cost.
“Already first-sale fish markets are showing signs of sluggishness as buyers signal to fishing vessels they have no confidence in smooth export procedures and therefore will not take the risk of buying.”
The EU-UK deal means Britain is an independent coastal state, outside of the Common Fisheries Policy.
But trade bodies say the complexity of the rules and confusion over reams of new paperwork have sparked chaos.
British fishermen are required to fill out forms including a European Health Certificate, to prove their catch meets regulatory standards.
It requires the signature of a vet approved by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs before export. Information must then be translated into every language for each country the consignment travels through and manually input to an EU computer system by a customs officer 24 hours before goods arrive.
On top of this, IT problems in Boulogne in recent days means documentation could not be quickly processed, leading to seafood trucks being held up at customs points.
In some cases 24-hour deliveries were taking three or more days.
James Cook, of seafood firm DR Collins & Son of Eyemouth, near Berwick, said: “Normally we’d have had three lorries a day leaving.
“We’ve had to suspend everything. Trading in Europe has become a lottery, so you have to be very, very brave to put all your resources and energy into trying [to] press a button and find out that you don’t even pass the first hurdle.”
Santiago Buesa, of SB Fish in Troon, said: “Our customers are pulling out. We are a fresh product and the customers expect to have it fresh, so they’re not buying. It’s a catastrophe.” A Government spokesman said: “We are working closely with the industry to help understand and address the issues.
“The UK and French systems are working, but we are contacting exporters and transporters to help them understand the requirements to keep goods moving.”