Seafood hauliers have protested in Westminster over the impact of Brexit on the industry.
Exports of fresh fish and seafood have been severely disrupted by delays since the UK’s transition period ended on December 31 with Scottish seafood companies reporting that Brexit red tape was bringing their business to a standstill.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he “understands the frustrations” as he confirmed any business experiencing difficulty exporting to the EU “through no fault of their own” would be compensated.The fishing firms descended on roads near 10 Downing Street in response to the issues they have faced in exporting seafood to the EU.
They say they were being “tied in knots with paperwork” by the Brexit fishing deal.
The new checks and paperwork has been causing massive delays for the industry since the UK left the European Union, with seafood producers growing increasingly frustrated at the lack of Government action.
Speaking to the BBC, Boris Johnson said: “I sympathise very much and understand their frustrations and things have been exacerbated by Covid and the demand hasn’t been what it was before the pandemic and that’s one of the problems we’re trying to deal with. That’s driven in large part by the pandemic.
“Where businesses, through no fault of their own, have faced difficulties exporting where there is a genuine willing buyer, there’s a £23 million fund to help out.”
He added: “What we’re going to do is give people a helping hand and that’s why we’ve set up the £100 million fund to help people with boats, to help with the fish processing industry, the opportunity is massive.”
Metropolitan Police confirmed that 14 people had been issued with fines after a protest on Monday morning.
A spokesperson from Eyemouth-based DR Collin & Son, who were taking part in the protest, said: “The industry is being tied in knots with paperwork requirements which would be easy enough to navigate, given that companies have put in the time and training in order to have all the relevant procedures in place for 1st January 2021.
“However, all the training is going to waste as the technology is outdated and cannot cope with the demands being placed on it – which in turn is resulting in no produce being able to leave the UK.
“These are not ‘teething issues’ as reported by the government and the consequences of these problems will be catastrophic on the lives of fishermen, fishing towns and the shellfish industry as a whole.”
Alasdair Hughson, Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation chairman, said: “It is inevitable that the UK shellfish industry would want to make its voice heard loud and clear on this matter.
“After the year that all of these businesses have had, struggling to survive against the odds, now faced with this situation, to now find themselves being blamed for not completing forms correctly when they are all just trying to follow government guidelines which are unclear and changing all of the time.
“If this debacle does not improve very soon we are looking at many established businesses coming to the end of the line.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the Government of trying to blame fishing communities for the issues caused by Brexit.
Sir Keir said: “They are beyond frustrated, they are pretty angry about what’s gone on because the government has known there would be a problem with fishing and particularly the sale of fish into the EU for years.
“It didn’t prepare for it and now it is doing the classic thing of the Government, which is trying to blame the fishing communities rather than accepting it’s their failure to prepare.”