SCOTTISH seafood businesses claim they are facing prohibitive increases in export costs because of council hikes, according to a new report last night.
The row centres on local authority health certificates, with some costs rising almost thirtyfold in less than two years.
Health certificates are required when selling to countries outside the EU, but they are also likely to become a legal requirement when the UK leaves the EU, with our without a deal, this year.
Cameron Brown, managing director of Loch Fyne Oysters, in Cairndow, Argyll and Bute, revealed last night that the company was facing a bill of £125,000 this year, 30 times more than it paid in 2017.
He told BBC Scotland: ‘We have four tonnes of smoked salmon going out this week to Turkey. The value of it is £75,000. The health certificate for that costs £91.
‘But if we put out a single box of oysters – and we do many of these a year, to various customers around the world – the cost is still £91.
‘A box containing 100 oysters, weighing just seven kilos, has a sales value of £65. It needs a health certificate costing £91. That makes it unviable for our customers. It’s very unfair.’
A similar protest has been made by the Clyde Fishermen’s Association, which has warned that the higher charges could eventually cost jobs.
It added that the costs vary widely across Scotland, depending on the local authority. The association wants charges to be standardised across the country.
Argyll and Bute Council, which said it had increased its charges in the face of budget cuts, told BBC Scotland in a statement: ‘Our enforcement policy is to support business and in doing so, to protect public health and safety.
‘We would like to have maintained fees at their previous low levels but this is, unfortunately, not an option. Our export certificate fee was the lowest in Scotland and did not recover the cost of delivering this service.’
Scotland Food and Drink has also warned that the rising charges could damage a billion pound industry already facing additional problems because of Brexit.
Its chief executive, James Withers, said: ‘The sharp rise in the cost of these certificates is hitting businesses hard.
‘The increase in charges, as much as 400 per cent in some areas of the country, have been introduced with little discussion with industry.
‘The real concern is they fly in the face of the national efforts to grow food exports from Scotland.’
Brexit was also presenting problems and he described the prospect of businesses having to pay for certificates for the first time for EU exports as ‘daunting’. It was time for a rethink on the entire issue, he urged.
Picture: Scotland Food and Drink chief executive James Withers