UK shellfish producers are reeling, following reports that EU rules restricting the import of live mussels, oysters and other shellfish are set to continue indefinitely.
European regulations forbid the import of live bivalve molluscs “not fit for consumption” from “third countries” – that is, countries outside the EU single market – unless they are either harvested from the cleanest “Class A” waters or have already been “depurated”, that is cleaned by being left to stand in saltwater tanks, prior to entering the EU.
UK producers previously sent their shellfish for depuration at large processing plants on the Continent, so facilities for depuration in the UK are extremely limited. The rules effectively ban many UK producers from exporting their product to their traditional markets in Europe.
UK producers say they had been given assurances by the UK government that the situation was being addressed and that the regulations would be lifted on 21 April. News website Politics Home reported yesterday, however, that an EU official had written to industry representatives in January to confirm that the regulations are to stay in place.
A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 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.”
Much of Scotland’s shellfish production comes from waters that meet the criteria for Class A – defined as 80% of sampled shellfish having less than 230 E.coli bacteria per 100g of flesh and the remaining 20% recording less than 700 E.coli per 100g – but almost all of the waters around England and Wales are Class B at best, although this does vary by the seasons. Live exports of bivalves from traditional areas such as Devon and Morecambe Bay are therefore barred from the EU, placing many producers in serious jeopardy.
David Jarrad, Chief Executive of the Shellfish Association of Great Britain, said: “The most prolific producing areas are Class B.”
He added: “It’s a big problem! There are not the scale of depuration facilities in the UK. If we invested now it would take many months and serious money to construct such tanks, but that wouldn’t solve the issue alone and the product would then have to be promoted to a different market: retail rather than bulk.”
Jarrad stressed that the industry had raised this issue repeatedly in the run-up to the end of the Brexit transition period. He told Fish Farmer: “We were originally told (by DEFRA in December) that only wild [stock] would be affected, until April 2021 when the Animal Health regulations would change and this would facilitate the resumption of trade. We are now told by the EU that ALL live bivalves… whether they be wild or farmed are affected and cannot be traded.”
The ban affects a range of mollusc species including mussels, oysters, clams, razor clams, cockles and scallops.
DEFRA said: “We are seeking a solution that will enable the trade in undepurated LBMs [live bivalve molluscs] to resume securely. To minimise delays and disruption, it is necessary for exporters to provide accurate information and to understand the requirements for the goods being exported.”
The government stresses that exporters should ensure they provide certifying officers with the correct customs codes and descriptions for all goods included in the consignment and suggests that exporters may also wish to check with trading partners whether the relevant EU Member State Border Control Post is able to accept their consignment.