Seafish judgement throws industry into turmoil19 March, 2010 –
BRITISH Seafood’s surprise High Court levy victory against Seafish has thrown the entire industry into turmoil.
The Seafish Industry Authority, which was set up by Act of Parliament from the old White Fish Authority nearly 30 years ago, depends on the levy to fund its activities.
The High Court ruled that fish and seafood landed abroad and imported into the UK should not be subject to the normal Seafish levy. As most of the fish processed in the UK today is in fact imported it means that Seafish, which employs around 100 people in Edinburgh and Grimsby, stands to lose the bulk of its income.
It also raises the important question as to whether Seafish can survive in its present form – or even if it can survive at all. The authority, which is clearly stunned by the ruling, said last night that it was deeply disappointed by the decision and that it was consulting with the government on the issue.
Fish processing companies are today celebrating the news because it is going to save them hundreds of thousands, if not millions of pounds in levy payments, but they would be wise not to get too carried away at this stage.
Seafish is likely to launch an appeal. The argument centres around the 1981 Fisheries Act which gave the authority the right by Act of Parliament to impose a levy on all imported seafood. The authority, which is the only cross industry seafood body working with fishermen, processors, fish farmers and the retail section, plays an important role in training and research.
The Government could bring in emergency legislation, but with a General Election only weeks away there may not be time to get it through both Houses. The other alternative is for the Government, through Defra, to fund Seafish directly. In the current economic climate that too is not a realistic option.
The ruling also puts fish landed by the UK fleets, most notably those in Scotland and the West Country, at a distinct disadvantage over imported supplies because they WILL have to pay the levy.
Today, there are a mixture of emotions in the industry – delight among processors that they no longer have to pay a levy on imports, but a great deal of uncertainty and some apprehension within the rest of the business.