ADDITIONAL support will be available to the fishing industry as it navigates post-Brexit export issues, UK ministers have pledged.
Cash grants will be available for more fishing businesses as the criteria for a support fund is being expanded.
The grants will be sourced from a £23 million fund – the Seafood Distribution Support Scheme – which was established in January, to aid seafood exporters who were struggling to trade in their usual EU markets.
However, industry bosses felt the scheme did not go far enough with Seafood Scotland chief executive Donna Fordyce described the feeling in the industry at the announcement of that scheme as “one of disappointment, with many companies instantly realising they will be ineligible for support”.
The fishing industry has also been adversely affected by a drop in demand for the hospitality sector.
A new UK-wide scheme, akin to the Fisheries Response Fund from last year, will be launched in early March.
It will provide a single payment which equates to a portion of fixed costs over a three-month period from January to March.
Scotland Office Minister David Duguid said: “Over the last few months, we have been listening to the seafood industry and have continued to monitor the impacts that the pandemic and export disruption has played on prices, exports and the market.
“I am confident in the quality of Scottish fish and seafood but for many fishing businesses the lack of demand in the hospitality trade in the UK and further afield has had a real impact on market prices.
“While we continue to take steps to beat this virus and work with the sector to resolve export issues – this expanded support scheme will help the many small and medium-sized fishing businesses that support so many of our coastal communities.”
Earlier this month a task force – including the UK Government, the Scottish Government, and the seafood industry – met to discuss the way forward.
Environment Secretary, George Eustice, said: “Our fishermen are at the heart of many of our coastal communities and we recognise the impact of coronavirus and the end of the transition period on them.
“This expansion of our £23 million support package will ensure many more businesses can benefit from Government support.
“The coronavirus pandemic has led to the closure of critical markets, and this has been exacerbated by issues faced by exporters at the border.
“We will continue to ensure we are listening to our fishing and seafood industry as we work to resolve these issues and work with them to build up the industry in the months and years ahead.”
This comes days after Martin Reid, the Scotland and Northern Ireland director for the Road Haulage Association, described a dire picture for exporting firms since the end of the transition period on December 31.
Reid told the Culture, Tourism, Europe, and External Affairs Committee that Brexit has caused hauliers to become “their own customs agents” due to shortages.
He explained: “There’s a lack of qualified customs agents, something that the Government deny.
“But we have seen that is definitely the case, so hauliers are now having to become their own customs clerks.
“They’re having to take on admin people, train them up on systems that are still in their infancy and that we’re still learning in order to deal with the additional paperwork that’s required.”
Scottish Engineering chief executive, Paul Sheerin, told the committee that 45% of respondents to a recent study said they had suffered detriment due to the availability of logistics, and 50% said they were being hit by the increased cost of haulage.