Scottish seafood firms face further Brexit border delays

Scottish seafood exports from smaller companies are set to be stopped for another five days by the transport company that handles most of the trade. DFDS halted ‘groupage’ exports – which allow exporters to ship multiple products in a single consignment – last week after delays in getting new paperwork for EU border posts in France. Previously, the company had said it would take until Monday to resume the service, while it tried to fix IT issues, paperwork errors and a backlog of goods.

A statement from DFDS explained that its computer systems had been adjusted and extra employees trained to help customers with accurate customs declarations. “The backlog is greatly reduced, but every step of the customs procedure is taking longer than anticipated and capacity is consequently reduced. “Despite our extraordinary efforts it is clear we need to further suspend the Groupage Export Service, which includes smaller consignments of fish and shellfish, until Wednesday at the earliest.”

Paperwork has to be approved before consignments can be sent to DFDS’s Larkhall chilled warehouse in South Lanarkshire, before it is dispatched to the continent. More than 10 trucks left Larkhall for export on Tuesday night, but a normal night would see about 27 despatched. Single source and species consignments have generally gone ahead, but where truckloads have many species of fish, landed by different boats, at different ports, and sent to market by different wholesalers – that has made for more complicated paperwork.

Last week, as exporters realised the demands of the new regime, it took as long as eight hours for inspectors to sign off truck loads. Some did not have the required paperwork and had to be redirected into the UK market. The Groupage Export Service will start again on 18 January, but it will not be an overnight service, Instead, it will take two nights from arrival at Larkhall to reaching the French market.

DFDS acknowledged the “painful” effect of the interruption to exports on its customers. It added: “We will continue to make every effort to assist those requiring support – by working together we aim to have a robust service running very soon again.”

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A statement in the House of Commons by UK Cabinet Secretary Michael Gove addressed the problems, acknowledging that the UK Government has a lot to do to ensure the steady flow of goods into Northern Ireland and Europe. “We are also working closely with industry to address specific problems of moving mixed food loads from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, through the process known as groupage,” he said.

“In the coming days, the government will issue new guidance on the practical mitigations that have been developed with industry to enable this important practice to continue and to support hauliers and suppliers.” Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a committee of MPs: “Insofar as there are delays caused by a variety of problems, we will compensate those fishing businesses.”

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An update from industry body Seafood Scotland explained that many species of Scottish seafood have experienced a price drop of around 40 to 50% at market this week. 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 the UK.

Around one third of the Scottish fleet is currently tied up, meaning the boats are not going out, and those fishermen are not working. One Scottish seafood company normally sends GBP1m worth of product to the EU every week, but last week only managed to get GBP12,000 of product into the EU. Another Scottish processor, exporting shellfish, exported GBP2m value in January last year.

This year, he expects to achieve somewhere between GBP500,000 to GBP1m for this January. Seafood Scotland chief executive Donna Fordyce commented: “Trying to navigate the system we have at the moment is like pushing water uphill, and it is not improving. “Getting anything out of the UK into the EU is being achieved by luck rather than design.”

The group once again called upon the UK and EU to grant companies a six-month grace period in relation to the raft of new paperwork they are now required to complete.

Fordyce added: “Everyone has their sleeves rolled up desperately trying to help companies meet the requirements for export, but at the heart of it, the UK system needs fixed.

“With some breathing space, the system can be fixed and rebooted, and companies will then be able to keep moving.”

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