More businesses will now be eligible for help under the UK government’s support scheme for seafood businesses affected by Brexit and Covid-19. The scheme’s criteria have been extended to include shellfish aquaculture and also fishing businesses affected indirectly by lower price and a fall in demand.
The Seafood Disruption Support Scheme was announced in January after temporary port closures due to the new strains of Covid-19, followed by disruption to trade following the end of the Brexit transition period, caused severe problems for seafood exporters trying to sell to EU customers.
The initial scheme did not, however, cover shellfish aquaculture businesses who found that, contrary to assurances given to the industry, that it was no longer possible to export live bivalve molluscs (LBMs) such as oysters and mussels to the Eu, unless they had been harvested in the highest quality “Class A” waters.
The revision to the scheme announced this week means that UK shellfish aquaculture businesses will be eligible for support, based on average ongoing costs based on full-time equivalent (FTE) employees per business.
Also, for the UK catching sector, the fund will be open to under owners of vessel of 40 metres or less, with fishing licences and who have a track record of fishing in the winter months. Grants in the form of single payments will be made to cover a proportion of fixed costs over a three-month period from January to March 2021. The change means that businesses that have suffered indirect losses will be able to claim. Previously, the scheme mainly targeted those whose consignments could not be delivered, or which became impossible to sell because of delays,
The expanded scheme will open in early March and provide a grant payment to cover up to three months of average business fixed costs incurred between January and March 2021. It will help catching and shellfish aquaculture businesses with costs such as insurance, equipment hire and port fees.
The Marine Management Organisation will run the scheme on behalf of DEFRA, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Businesses that have received a grant under the Seafood Producers Resilience Fund in Scotland will not be eligible for the UK scheme.
David Jarrad, Chief Executive of the Shellfish Association of Great Britain, welcomed the move but added: “This doesn’t mean a there is a long-term solution for live bivalve mollusc [LBM] exporters. We are continuing to work with the UK government and the European Commission, but the jury’s out as to what will happen next.”
It was previously possible to transport LBMs to processors in mainland Europe where they would be “depurated” – steeped in clean seawater – but this is no longer possible since the UK is no longer an EU member state. As Jarrad explained, the UK does not have the capacity for depuration ahead of export. Even if it had, the process would mean more mortalities and wasted product in transit because the shellfish would be stressed ahead of being transported.
DEFRA said: “The Government… continues to seek urgent resolution to export issues, including the EU ban on the import of class B live bivalve molluscs and will explore further ways producers can continue to export this valuable seafood.”