Seafood exporters hit by Brexit red tape and delays will be able to claim up to £100,000 in compensation, the Government has said.
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) confirmed that it was putting in place a £23m compensation package for firms exporting fish and shellfish to the EU who can show they have suffered “genuine loss”.
Boris Johnson originally disclosed the Government’s intentions after seafood hauliers descended on Westminster on Monday to protest at the terms of the Brexit trade deal which has left them struggling to access EU markets.
The introduction of new checks and paperwork since the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31 has caused huge disruption to exports of fresh fish and seafood to the EU, with producers becoming increasing frustrated at the lack of Government action.
Defra said the scheme would be targeted at small and medium operators with payments made retrospectively to cover losses incurred since January 1.
The Government will consult with the industry across the UK on the eligibility criteria – as well as working with the devolved administrations – with details to be announced in the “coming days”.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “This £23m scheme will provide crucial support for fishermen and seafood exporters, who have experienced delays and a lack of demand for fish from the restaurant industry in the UK and Europe.
“We are continuing to work closely with the fishing and aquaculture sectors to make sure that they are supported, and can continue to fish whilst contributing to the economies of our coastal communities.”
Scotland’s Fisheries Secretary Fergus Ewing said the UK Government must ensure that its compensation package is open to all whose business has been interrupted or harmed by any aspect of the new export requirements.
He said: “As feared and predicted, the new trading relationship with the EU is having a catastrophic impact on Scotland’s food and drink export industry.
“It is very clear that the UK Government should have extended the transition period as we called for, due to the pandemic and lack of progress in the negotiations.
“We have repeatedly pressed the UK Government to act quickly and compensate businesses affected by the ongoing trade issues. I am pleased to see they have finally recognised our calls for compensation but I remain concerned this may be too little, too late for some businesses that have been left to rot as a result of the extensive bureaucracy forced on them by a poor Brexit deal and failing UK IT systems.
“Whilst we desperately need more detail, it does appear almost certain that the vast majority of fishing vessels who land but don’t export directly will not be covered by this scheme, which is beyond any rational explanation.
“The UK Government must step up for all affected businesses.”
Seafood Scotland chief executive Donna Fordyce welcomed the announcement of “short-term assistance” but said the Government needed to do more to support the sector.
“While we await the full detail of the package, we know that there will be questions around the extent to which it supports the entire supply chain, from fleet to export,” she said.
“Money will offer a much-needed sticking plaster covering the losses over the last few weeks, but to completely staunch the wound, the sector still needs a period of grace during which the systems must be overhauled so they are fit for purpose. “