Fears for future of shellfish firms over Brexit export ban

"This is not a teething issue, this is the government removing all our teeth and leaving us unable to eat”

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Monday 01 February 2021 19:22

Related video: Jacob Rees-Mogg tells MPs fish will be ‘happier’ after Brexit

British shellfish companies have warned of a potentially fatal blow to their business due to a post-Brexit ban on unprocessed oysters, cockles and scallops from many UK waters to EU markets.

Brussels officials have informed the industry that UK fishermen will no longer be allowed to send live bivalves and molluscs - known in the trade as LBMs, and also including mussels and clams - unless they have undergone purification to be made fit for human consumption, or have come from the cleanest “class A” waters.

The Shellfish Association of Great Britain said class A exports were “not in doubt”, but there was “severe uncertainty” over the future of exports from class B waters.

These include areas of the Menai Straits, The Wash, Morecambe Bay and Devon which have previously sent thousands of tonnes of live shellfish annually to the EU for processing before distribution to supermarkets, restaurants and bars.

Kingfisher Seafoods Limited of Barrow-in-Furness, which sends up to 2,000 tonnes of cockles and mussels to customers in Spain, France, Holland, and Ireland each year, said it was “facing collapse” as a result of the ruling.

Director Rob Benson said that the industry had been informed by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) that the ban would apply only to wild shellfish, and not those raised in aquaculture farms. And companies were told that the ban would last only until April, when a new EU animal health certificate was due to come into force.

Mr Benson said: “Our business relies almost entirely on sending live cockles and mussels for further processing in the EU. 

“Our sales have dropped off a cliff since 31 December. We were bracing ourselves to keep going until April but this news has all but destroyed any hope we had of the future. 

“This is not a teething issue, this is the government removing all our teeth and leaving us unable to eat”.

Mr Benson said the only way for Kingfisher to continue exports to the EU would be to invest up to £1 million on processing, packing and labelling equipment, which he said was not feasible. 

It had always been the case that the EU did not allow unprocessed shellfish from non-member states, referred to as “third countries”, he said.

“This is not new EU policy,” said Mr Benson. “This has always been there. 

“This is the government not doing their job to safeguard the industry.

“Before 31 December, we were in the EU and Defra was responsible for policing imports from third countries. Now we are out of the EU, how come it is only now we are told of the situation? It’s like saying a policeman who’s been on the beat for the last 50 years didn’t know the law.”

Labour’s shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard said: "This makes a mockery of ministerial claims the problems with shellfish exports are only teething troubles. 

“The fishing industry has every right to feel betrayed by the government's Brexit deal”.

A spokesperson for the SAGB said that trade in shellfish from grade A waters “is not in doubt and continues”.

But the spokesperson added: “We are aware there is potentially an issue with exporting live bivalve molluscs to the European Union following the end of the transition period 31 December 2020. The live bivalve mollusc producers were told by the UK government in 2020 that the export trade of their products would be able to continue and would not be interrupted by Brexit.

“There is a distinction between product that is exported directly for human consumption which is harvested from grade A waters or purified product and product that has historically been exported for purification before entering the food chain and is harvested from Grade B waters. The trade from grade A waters is not in doubt and continues

“There is some doubt about the suitability of product from grade B waters to fulfil the current EU export requirements. This is contrary to the position previously advised by UK government and as it is relevant to a large part of the live-bivalve producing industry is causing grave concern.

“There is currently severe uncertainty with regard to the future for this sector, however the SAGB is working hard with Defra, the devolved administrations and our EU counterparts for help find a solution.”

A Defra spokesperson told the PoliticsHome website: “We will continue to raise the issue of live bivalve molluscs not ready for human consumption with the EU, to ensure the trade can continue securely.”

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