Eustice promises LBM exporters that he will find alternative markets for their produce but where are the markets asks Devon mussel producer
Fisheries Secretary George Eustice has promised live bivalve mollusc producers that he will find alternative markets at home and abroad for their shellfish which they can no longer export to the European Union.
Responding to a letter from MP and Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Neil Parish, Mr Eustice said: “Whilst the Eu’s trade ban in relation to undepurated live bivalve molluscs (LBMs) from Class B waters remains in place, we are looking at a number of options to support the industry, including working with the Department of International Trade to support impacted businesses to secure access to new markets, and promoting domestic seafood consumption through campaigns like “Love Seafood”. In England the Fisheries and Seafood Scheme can currently provide grant funding for the construction of depuration facilities and other relevant projects. The £23 million made available to support seafood businesses affected by COVID-19 or trade disruption was also available to LBM businesses, such as through the Seafood Response Fund, which provided up to £10,000 of fixed costs support for eligible fishing and shellfish aquaculture businesses. FSA has been working closely was Defra to support the industry while maintaining add high levels of public health protection. FSA has awarded new ‘seasonal A’ classifications, assessed proposals from stakeholders for changes to classifications protocols and is introducing two new criteria for consideration of anomalous (unusually high) results which will apply to classifications awarded from September 2021 in England and Wales in January 2022 and Northern Ireland. Defra continues to work across Government on responding to the trade ban by the EU, and we intend to raise it through the Trade Specialised Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures.”
Replying to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, John Holmyard, Managing Director of Offshore Shellfish told The Fishing Daily, “What he said in the letter about supporting businesses to find other markets. If we’re talking about live bivalve molluscs from ‘Class B’ waters, what alternative markets are there?
“There aren’t any.
“Even if we can sell Live Bivalve Molluscs to other markets, they are not big markets compared to France and Holland, and if you can purify them to send to other international markets, then we can send them to the EU.
“The reality is that nobody wants to buy mussels from ‘Class B’ waters except Europe because they are already set-up to do the purification.”
Alternatives such as building a depuration plant is not realistic says John, “What Council would allow you to build a great big industrial building on the shore front in any port along the south coast here.”
Other issues such as cost comes into play and no one company can afford to build a depuration plant, even when at the height of harvesting they can land up to 40 tonnes a day.
“You’re talking about a building that would have to have the purification capacity for the whole of the country if you wanted to make it work. What would take a year or two to actually build.
“To purify mussels here and then take them out of the tanks and then ship them over to the EU. It just doesn’t work, you know. And more to point, nobody is going to buy them.”
“Why should we have to do that when those facilities exist in Holland and France, where we were exporting to until January this year.
“Depuration is not our trade, and the trade does not exist for buying pre-purified bulk mussels, and that’s what we do. To suddenly change your entire trade from doing bulk live mussels to doing packaged mussels is like asking a farmer to start processing burgers when his job has been growing cattle.”
Currently, John’s company is exporting his mussels to the EU because at the moment the waters in which he is growing the mussels has been upgraded to ‘Class A’ waters, but this will only last until September, when they will again be downgraded to ‘Class B’.
This is not ideal as John explains,” Well, we’re actually exporting at the moment because we’re now classified as ‘Class A’ waters. We don’t normally sell anything in July or August because it’s too hot and this reduces the mussels shelf life. Also, we don’t normally sell in July because they’re not up to full size, but we had to get something on the market to try to cover our losses. This time of the year we have much lower yields than we would have if we were in October/November but then again when that time comes around, we won’t be allowed to export.
“It’s like telling a turkey farmer that you can’t sell turkeys at in December.”
It has been a very tough year so the majority of LBM producers from ‘Class B’ waters. In fact, it is very difficult to have any LBM exports from ‘Class A’ waters because most of those waters are not exploited because they home wild cockles and other LBMs.
Financially it has been devastating for companies like Offshore Shellfish and unlike the claims from George Eustice, that producers could benefit from the Seafood Response Fund and the Fisheries and Seafood Scheme, there was very little they could claim for.
Supports only covered losses for COVID-19 or on loses on LBM exports that were not accepted by the European Union on the 01 January 2021 because of the ban. John and his company has been left to pick-up the bill since January without the assistance other businesses in the UK have been afforded.
“I don’t see why there should be any difference from the support that’s been given to dozens of other businesses because of being shut down with COVID or whatever you know.
“We didn’t get any of that money, nothing. So instead, we’re basically left hanging in the wind since January.”
One of the issues Offshore Shellfish is facing in the waters they are growing mussels in on the Devon coast is that the system used to classify waters is defective. In seven years of water testing, one time the waters failed to meet the ‘Class A’ level, and this meant that for three years the water would have be classified as ‘Class B’ until a recent intervention was put in place. John says this is in complete contrast to the EU and the UK authorities need to take a leaf from their book.
“Looking at the current classification system it is only applicable to those sites that are marginal. We’re lucky we are marginal ‘Class A/ClassB’ but we had one ‘Class B’ reading and now we are classified as a grade B, because of it.
“Interestingly enough, looking at Holland recently, there were waters there that was downgraded from A to B.
“Within a week of being downgraded it was tested it again and upgraded back to a ‘Class A’ all in the space of one week.
“In the UK that would take three years.”
John says that he is hoping that the Trade Specialised Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures will also bring some good news.
“What we’re asking for is to apply the regulation in the same way as they’re applied by most countries in EU, particularly our customers, which is. Yeah, Holland France.
“I see no reason at all why we can’t be graded in the same way, if that’s what we got to do. But the long term the only fix for businesses in our poition is to get back to the system we had before where you could send ‘Class B’ LBMs for purification, and it’s exactly this that we’re looking for in the Trade Specialised Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures.”
By Oliver McBride