Unless issues are addressed quickly, "we could see the destruction of a centuries-old market."

By Mike Pomranz
January 11, 2021
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By ending a 27-year-old union, Brexit was sure to come with some growing pains. But with less than two weeks under their belt, some in the Scottish fishing industry are wondering if what they're feeling is more akin to death throes.

As Reuters reported on Friday, the additional red tape caused by the United Kingdom's exit from the EU has led to major issues for the Scottish fishing industry which has relied on seamless next-day transport of fresh seafood to customers on the European mainland. Since Brexit became official on January 1, shipping Scottish langoustines, scallops, oysters, lobsters, and mussels to places like France, Belgium, and Spain has suddenly been slower and more expensive—and some businesses wonder if their models will remain sustainable.

Scallop Fishing
Credit: Gareth Easton/Getty Images

Due to new paperwork like health certificates and customs declarations, one-day deliveries were reportedly taking three days or more. And DFDS Scotland—a major logistics company for the industry—admitted to a mix of IT and paperwork issues. "These businesses are not transporting toilet rolls or widgets. They are exporting the highest quality, perishable seafood which has a finite window to get to markets in peak condition," Donna Fordyce, chief executive of Seafood Scotland, told the BBC over the weekend. "If the window closes, these consignments go to landfill."

And speaking of paperwork, one Scottish exporter told Reuters that paperwork alone could cost him over $800 a day. "I'm questioning whether to carry on," he explained. "If our fish is too expensive our customers will buy elsewhere."

Fordyce believes these problems could be large scale. "In a very short time, we could see the destruction of a centuries-old market which contributes significantly to the Scottish economy," she added.

Exacerbating the issue is a deeper divide: The Scottish people did not vote in favor of Brexit in 2016 and, more recently, the Scottish government objected to the final Brexit deal negotiated by the U.K., with Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon specifically mentioning her country's fishermen in denouncing the terms. "Even for the fishing industry—perhaps the only sector that genuinely believed that Brexit would deliver benefits—this deal represents a massive sell out and broken promise," she stated. "The result is a deal which is harmful for the UK as a whole—but perhaps especially harmful for Scotland."

On Friday, Sturgeon doubled down on that statement, tweeting, "Our exporters are already paying a high cost for Brexit. This is a particular worry for Scotland's world class seafood sector."

However, unsurprisingly, UK government Minister for Scotland David Duguid simply pointed the finger back at the Scottish government. "Over the past 18 months they have assured the fishing industry that the systems they were putting in place would be adequate," he was quoted as saying. "They clearly are not."

Still, whoever is to blame, whether this proves to be a short-term glitch or the beginning of the end of Scottish seafood as we know it depends on how everyone moves forward from here. "Your so-called 'deal' is worthless if this situation is not fixed immediately, and unless you put in place measures to address the issues that continue to unfold on a daily basis," Victoria Leigh-Pearson, sales director for Scottish salmon producer John Ross, wrote in a letter to U.K. Business Secretary Alok Sharma. "Moreover, as a seafood exporter, it feels as though our own government has thrown us into the cold Atlantic waters without a lifejacket."