Brexit ‘seafood crisis’ no joke for Scottish fishing fleets

LONDON — Scottish fishermen felt as though they were the butt of a U.K. government joke Thursday.

Up in arms because Brexit border trade friction is blocking them from getting catches to the EU, their biggest market, few were in a mood to laugh.

Asked what the British government is doing to help Scottish seafood exporters who are seeing fish prices crater, the leader of the Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, told MPs: “The key is we’ve got our fish back. They’re now British fish. They’re better and happier fish for it.” 

The prices of some Scottish seafood are down 40 to 50 percent this week, dropping 80 percent in some instances. “This is because processors and intermediaries are not buying, as they are not guaranteed to be able to sell seafood on to EU customers because they can’t get it out of the UK,” said industry body Seafood Scotland in a statement. They call it a “seafood crisis.”

“Issues from computer failure to lack of clarity on paperwork have rendered some Scottish companies’ efforts to export seafood all but impossible,” they added. Last week, they pointed out, a Scottish seafood company that usually sells £1 million worth of seafood into the EU each week was only able to sell £12,000.

Rees-Mogg said the “government is tackling this issue and is moving as quickly as it can.”

“ENOUGH is ENOUGH WE CANT GET OUR PRODUCT into the EU MARKET WE are facing BANKRUPTCY get it sorted,” the Scottish shellfish firm Loch Fyne Seafarms tweeted out Wednesday.

The avowedly anti-Brexit and pro-Scottish independence Scottish National Party is meanwhile calling for U.K’s fisheries minister Victoria Prentis to step down after she acknowledged that she had not read the detail of the U.K.-EU trade deal on fisheries. She had, she said, been “organizing the local nativity trail” on Christmas Eve when it was announced. 

Prentis’ comments even saw Boris Johnson’s spokesperson pushed Thursday to confirm that the U.K. prime minister had, in fact, read the deal.

“Whether it is comments about nativity trails or the happiness of fish, the attempts at humor are not helping,” said James Withers, chief executive of Scotland Food & Drink, following Rees-Mogg’s comments Thursday.

“People are stressed, angry and some feel their businesses are slipping away.” Withers said it would be best if the government’s focus was on solutions, “not dismissive quips.”

Scotland’s fishing industry wants a six-month grace period on the paperwork they’re now required to fill out to get their catch across the EU border. They pointed out that some shipments are being turned back “because paperwork has used the wrong color” of ink, and that required commodity codes aren’t in the system and so need to be entered manually.

On Wednesday, Johnson said exporters “will be compensated” for the millions in losses from delays for exporters for fish and shellfish, while U.K. Environment Secretary George Eustice faced questions from MPs Thursday about what that might involve.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “We recognize that there have been some temporary, administrative issues following the transition period with specific regard to fishing.”

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