Exporting shellfish to Europe a “nightmare” because of Brexit trade deal
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
The director of a shellfish company which processes scallops from Wales claimed that exporting to Europe has become a “nightmare” and that the business might be unviable if the situation continued.
Dave Swiggs, of Fowey Shellfish Company, said he has stopped buying scallops from fishermen because he cannot guarantee to get the product to the Continent since new trading arrangements came into force between the UK and Europe.
Before January 1 , Cornwall-based Fowey Shellfish, which used to own a mussel farm at Swansea docks, could process and pack scallops one day and deliver them to its customers the next with very little paperwork.
Around 90% of scallops processed by the company end up in Europe, mainly France and Italy.
Mr Swiggs said that each order was accompanied by a consignment note denoting what it contained. The scallops were transported by lorry, through the Channel tunnel and into mainland Europe.
“It worked really well,” said Mr Swiggs. “It was seamless.”
He said every order now has to have an export health certificate.
He said this certificate must be filled in and signed by the Cornwall Port Health Authority, which comes to inspect the orders.
To complete the form, Mr Swiggs said the port health authority needed to know the trailer number or registration number of the vehicle crossing into Europe, and also the border control point in France.
The problem, he said, was that the scallops might be transferred to a different trailer or lorry at a large depot near Bristol before their onward journey into Europe.
Mr Swiggs also claimed the main border control point in France, Boulogne-sur-Mer, was experiencing computer problems, meaning some imports had to enter France elsewhere.
The upshot, he said, was that it was a nightmare to fill out the export health certificate ahead of time.
He added that the certificate also had to denote the correct order size, meaning in practice that customers couldn’t alter their order at a late stage prior to export, which didn’t used to be a problem.
Mr Swiggs said the company, which has 14 employees, had orders to fulfil when it reopened on Monday, January 4.
“We just could not do it,” he said. “We could not supply the information needed to generate the relevant paperwork to cross the border.”
Mr Swiggs said several lorry-loads of seafood from elsewhere in Cornwall had been returned to the county from the depot near Bristol since January 1.
On the plus side, the deal agreed between the UK and EU has not resulted in new tariffs.
But Mr Swiggs said the current situation felt untenable.
“We have furloughed three staff, and if this carries on we will have to furlough more,” he said.
“If we can’t export scallops, the business is not viable.”
Developing the UK market for scallop consumption, he said, would take investment and might not pay off.
Mr Swiggs added that French vessels were still removing scallops from UK waters, as they were entitled to do under the new deal, while UK scallop crews faced uncertainty.
Asked if he could have prepared for the shift in trading arrangements, he replied: “We had been paying attention to (Government department) Defra, the transport companies and the port health authority, but it was speculation.
“There was no deal until very late.”
He added: “It’s a nightmare. The annoying thing is that the suppliers and customers desperately want this to work.”
Fowey Shellfish sold its mussel farm in Queen’s Dock, Swansea, to a company called Three-Sixty Aquaculture last October.
The mussels grow on ropes and are sold to wholesalers and restaurants after going through a purification and certification process.
Lee Tanner, Three-Sixty Aquaculture’s director, said the company has been re-stocking the farm and expected it to be capable of generating 500 tonnes of mussels per year at peak capacity.
He said the venture was a Soil Association-registered organic farm, and hoped it would benefit from rising public awareness of where food came from and what its environmental impacts were.
“It ticks the boxes for locally-grown and responsibly-sourced food,” said Mr Tanner.
The Local Democracy Reporter Service asked Government department Defra to comment on the concerns raised by Fowey Shellfish Company.