The first meeting of the taskforce set up to deal with post-Brexit problems for the Scottish seafood industry is due to take place this week, but it has already been overshadowed by friction between the UK and Scottish governments over how to handle the issue.
The group will be hosted by the Office of the Secretary of State for Scotland and chaired by UK Government Minister for Scotland, David Duguid. Industry representatives and representatives of the Scottish government have been invited to attend.
The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation has expressed disappointment that the Scottish Seafood Exports taskforce is to be led by the UK government rather than, as the industry had requested, as a joint initiative between the two governments.
Tavish Scott, Chief Executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, welcomed the announcement but noted: “We asked for this to be jointly led by Fergus Ewing, Scotland’s Rural Economy Secretary and DEFRA. Unfortunately the UK government has decided to chair the taskforce alone and through the Scotland Office rather than DEFRA.
“We have been asking for both governments to work together on the red tape, extra export costs we face every day and the uncertainty on delivery times for fish into Europe. We are at a loss to understand why this taskforce is not a joint effort, but nevertheless we will work constructively with our colleagues across seafood to offer export solutions which can help.”
Following the end of the Brexit transition period, seafood businesses throughout the UK have experienced difficulties with the paperwork now required for export to the European Union, IT system glitches, a shortage of environmental health officers to sign off export health certificates and, most recently, a statement by the EU that regulations preventing the import of much of the UK’s live shellfish harvest will not, as the UK government had hoped, be lifted in April.
David Duguid said, announcing the taskforce: “I am clear about the need for action. I want the taskforce to track the export process to identify issues stopping or delaying export, and areas of complexity that are not yet well understood.
“We want to seek a common understanding on the export process and address concerns by developing solutions to be taken forward by the UK government, Scottish government and EU. And we want to ensure there is effective communication with the industry to ensure traders are aware of issues and of solutions.”
The new task force will meet fortnightly. The Secretary of State has written to Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism at Holyrood, inviting him and officials to take part in the inaugural meeting this week.
Donna Fordyce, Chief Executive of Seafood Scotland, said: “What the seafood industry is experiencing goes far beyond ‘teething problems’ and needs real solutions, delivered quickly. We have yet to see the makeup of the Taskforce, but we would hope that its approach will echo the passion and fierce determination of the men and women whose livelihoods depend on the sea, and have done for generations. The challenge that lies ahead is to fix systems and red tape both here and in the EU that have so far failed seafood exporters from all over the UK, with the devastating impacts becoming clearer as each day goes by.”
The Scottish government has previously questioned reports that Westminster has provided extra resources to deal with the problems in Scotland, stressing that Food Standards Scotland has played the lead role in this regard and denying that the problems were due to lack of preparation by the Scottish government.
Meanwhile, the Scottish government’s new Seafood Producers Resilience Fund has opened for applications. The £6.45m scheme is aimed at fishers and small aquaculture businesses impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) and EU Exit. The fund is expected to benefit up to 1,000 vessels landing shellfish such as crab, lobster, scallops, langoustines and squid, and up to 75 aquaculture businesses that produce shellfish and table trout. Information on eligibility and separate applications for aquaculture and fishing vessels are available on the Scottish Government website.