New Seafish chairman confident of winning levy appeal –

New Seafish chairman confident of winning levy appeal Published:  11 June, 2010

Interview by John Whitehad with Fishupdate

JOHN Whitehead, the new chairman of Seafish, said last night that he was  confident the organisation will eventually  win any appeal to the Supreme Court on the Seafish Levy decision. But he stressed that Seafish first had to get leave to appeal from the Supreme Court – and he expected a decision on that in the next few weeks.

Seafish lost more than half its income in a shock High Court of Appeal decision in March which ruled that British Seafood did not have to pay the levy on imported fish. Ironically, the ruling came just after British Seafood collapsed financially and was placed into administration. Since then many of its subsidiary operations have been sold off.

John Whitehead , who has spent many years in the food and seafood industry, stepped up from deputy chairman and was appointed interim chairman earlier this week  following the retirement of Charles Howeson as chairman.

He told Fishupdate in an exclusive interview that he was looking forward to his new role, but admitted that he faced challenging times.

He said: “My priority is to win the appeal, Of course we still have to get permission from the Supreme Court to appeal and, hopefully,  that decision  should come through soon. If it is in our favour I don’t expect the Supreme Court case to be heard until well into the autumn.”

In the meantime, Seafish has received an interim loan of around £200,000 from Defra to help it through the next few months.

Mr Whitehead said he was confident that Seafish would win any appeal. The Appeal Court earlier this year only looked at landings. It did not take into account what was recorded in Hansard when Seafish was set up by Act of Parliament in 1981. He said it  was the will of Parliament at that time that the levy should apply to ALL fish. Indeed, when the Channel Tunnel Act was passed it was agreed that any fish which came through the tunnel should be subject to the levy.”

Mr Whitehead, who started his career with the Eskimo Frozen Food Company in Grimsby, said he had received many message of support from people within the fishing industry. “I have a lot of good memories of Grimsby,” he said.

He added: Our work goes on. Obviously because we have lost so much of our income we have had to cut back in certain areas, but hopefully that will eventually be restored.” He said the Grimsby office of Seafish would continue to function.

“More importantly, we are working on a fully effective plan to improve our service to industry over the next three years and focus hard on delivering value for money against industry investment in us.”