Customs arrangements in the wake of Brexit are causing delays as “entire trailers” need to be checked rather than samples, members of the Scottish seafood industry have said.
The Scottish Seafood Association, which represents processors, says exports to the EU are already being hit by unnecessary delays.
The industry body says the problem is likely to get worse in the coming days as the pace of trade increases.
Some fishing and seafood companies have complained on social media that the export arrangements are a “shambles”.
Jimmy Buchan, chief executive of the association, said: “Trucks laden with fresh seafood are being held up in central Scotland due to problems with customs barcodes and lack of veterinary service capacity.
“Instead of representative samples being removed from trucks and checked, entire trailers are being emptied so that every box and label can be checked.
“Combined with computer problems on both sides of the English Channel, this is a worrying sign for the days and weeks ahead when the flow of produce will get much greater.”
He continued: “These issues have a detrimental impact on our member businesses, because ultimately they lose revenue and prices in the market become depressed in reaction to the problems. We are at the point now where the whitefish fleet may have to stop fishing.
“Things are tough enough due to Covid-19 without this on top.
“Ministers of both the UK and Scottish governments need to get on top of the situation and resolve these issues as soon as possible.”
When the border with France was closed in December due to the new coronavirus strain emerging in the UK, the association warned that perishable seafood could go to waste if it was stuck in transit.
Following the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December, new rules around trade between the UK and EU came into force.
While little disruption was reported in the early days of the new arrangements, the volume of cross-border trade is expected to increase.
SB Fish, which is based at Troon in South Ayrshire, tweeted on Wednesday that none of their trucks bound for France had left a haulage hub.
They said: “Not one single Truck has left from our Hauliers/Hub. It’s now becoming a complete shambles.”
Lochfyne Sea Farms – based in Tarbert, Argyll and Bute – replied to the tweet, saying: “Shambles is an understatement taking 3 days to deliver live product to France is a joke, we warned against these problems and it’s worse than we imagined, business is no longer viable if we can’t get our product to market in time.”
A UK Government spokeswoman said: “We are aware of a small number of issues relating to the movement of fish and seafood due to some information not being entered correctly into UK and French systems.
“Both the UK and French systems are working. We are contacting exporters, their representatives and transporters to help them understand the requirements and we will work closely with them to keep their goods moving.
“It is vital that exporters check they have entered in details correctly and ensure that they have provided the transporter of the goods with the correct documentation.”
The Scottish Government’s Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing MSP said: “We have been working with logistics companies to provide an EHC (Export Health Certificate) service at a number of central Scotland logistics hubs, thereby reducing the burden on local authorities.
“We are all learning – including businesses – how to manage the considerable burden of this new bureaucracy on exporting food products.
“We know how frustrating, time consuming and indeed costly this is for Scottish businesses – we warned the UK Government that we needed much more clarity much sooner than we got on what the export process would involve after the transition period ended and that its plans to leave the single market would create barriers like this.
“FSS (Food Standards Scotland) has the necessary veterinary capacity at the hubs and we will continue to work closely with businesses and organisations to ensure that we are all doing everything possible to minimise delays and expedite product journeys.
“That includes applying an appropriate level of scrutiny to ensure that businesses are accurately completing all necessary paperwork.
“It is far better for problems to be identified and resolved here in Scotland and not have consignments being turned back hundreds of miles away or refused when they arrive at the end of their journey.”