Monday, 8 February 2021

Live shellfish exports - not a good read.

Apparently George Eustaice has written a letter to the EU with regard to the export of live shellfish calamity. 

As has Michael Gove on exports to the EU:

This thread from Nick Tolhurst:

UK govt provided “false information” to British seafood & fishing industries based on misunderstanding of how EU 3rd country rules would apply to UK exporters. Such a situation made it “impossible for industry to adequately prepare” even had they followed govt advice. 

It seems that only “this week” did the ministry responsible for fishing - DEFRA - confirm to UK fishing industry that exporting live catch from UK class B waters would now “no longer be possible”. This was a full 5 weeks after UK left EU single market on 1st January 2021. The misunderstanding appears to have risen as many in the British fishing industry believed UK govt advice instead of an official EU communication to the UK seafood industry body in December which gained less media traction. 

When the UK fishing industry queried EU rules - claiming a ‘ban’ had now been “permanently imposed” - the EU had to send a letter to the UK industry body explaining the existing legal position. This information ran counter to the information previously provided by UK govt. This explains the “late reaction” of UK seafood industry - who now believe much of the industry is “no longer viable” under existing EU regulations given UK’s recently acquired 3rd country status. 

That’s not just UK trade with EU no longer viable - but the industry itself. This also explains many fishermen’s initial complacency as they had been informed by their industry body acting on govt advice that “not much would change” once teething issues solved. It’s only in last 7 days that it’s become clear to many in industry that change permanent. 

Normally such “misunderstandings” would be identified during parliamentary readings & select committee meetings... ...but as the deal was agreed only at Christmas and rushed through “without parliamentary scrutiny” the issue remained relatively little discussed publicly. There’s been a number of media reports that UK govt is taking this issue up with EU but unclear what effect this could have. Seems unlikely EU will change its regulations soon. 

Could EU offer something special for UK - a work-around perhaps? Or maybe it’s just for show? Most of this thread is based on reports or facts all freely available in multiple sources over the last 5 days. But a good place to start is to look at this report below from the BBC and contact/read the industry bodies mentioned.

The BBC published this story on live shellfish exports last week:

Welsh Shellfish producers facing block on exports to EU Shellfish from Grade B waters must be cleaned and purified before being sent to Europe Many cockles and mussels producers in Wales have been told they cannot continue exporting to the EU because the water quality is not good enough.

Most Welsh waters are Grade B which means shellfish have to be cleaned and purified before being sent to Europe. But there are not enough facilities in the UK - and pre-Brexit, produce was sent to the EU to be purified and then delivered around the mainland. Wales' environment minister wants an urgent meeting with the UK Government.

James Wilson, of Deep Dock, is one of several mussel producers on the Menai Straits and his company has been exporting live mussels to EU countries since the 1990s.

EU shellfish import ban permanent, industry told 'My £50,000 shellfish lorry was delayed for a day' Fears for Britain's largest mussel farming site

Between his firm and the others there, they send about 7,000 tonnes of mussels to the EU a year worth about £8m. Mr Wilson said he and others were confident they would be able to export to EU customers as long as they had the correct documentation.

"People's lives are being wrecked and there doesn't seem to be any reason for it," he said. "Despite everything you've done, despite everything you've been told for three years, all of a sudden you find out that you can't export. "If we can't export now then that's the end of the industry. "We will have to find a solution, whether it takes two months or six or a year."

image captionJames Wilson said things had panned out differently to what they were told He added: "On 24 December Boris Johnson said there would be no non-tariff barriers and we find out that those very same non-tariff barriers that were said not to exist, are the very things that are threatening the future of the seafood sector and other parts of the UK economy."

The Shellfish Association of Great Britain said there had been some doubt about whether produce from Grade B waters would fulfil the current EU requirements, which it said was contrary to what it had been previously advised by the UK Government.

Sarah Horsfall from the industry body added: "It would be disastrous for the aquaculture industry if we don't re-establish this trade.

"It's not just about the value of the industry, it's the location of the businesses that's important too."

The association said it was working with the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), the devolved administrations and their EU counterparts to try to find a solution.

Environment minister Lesley Griffiths called for an "urgent meeting" with UK fisheries secretary George Eustice. "Clearly something has gone very wrong - it's incredibly disappointing and that's an understatement," she said. "I think Defra have definitely dropped the ball."

She added: "We've been warning the UK Government this would happen for the last four years and it's a big blow to our shell-fishers and our aquaculture sector here in Wales."

A Defra spokesman said: "Live bivalve molluscs such as oysters, mussels, clams, cockles and scallops can continue to be exported to the EU if they're harvested from Class A waters or cleaned, or have cleared end product testing in the UK.

"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."

From Sarah Dickins BBC Wales economics correspondent