Luke Pollard MP looks at trade for the UK fishing industry post-Brexit

Shadow Environment Secretary, Luke Pollard MP has expressed concerns that a no-deal Brexit could create huge difficulties for the fishing industry in the UK.

In an article he wrote this week, the Plymouth Sutton and Devonport representative explores fishing and the complexities of both a no-deal and a post-Brexit where a trade deal has been agreed.

The fishing industry faces an uncertain future and trade talks are due to resume next week between the United Kingdom and the European Union. Both sides are hoping to seal a deal where frictionless borders exist but the reality of hard borders is equally as likely.

What’s the catch?

Britain’s shellfish industry is a hidden secret. More than 80 percent of all shellfish landed in the UK is exported, the majority to our friends in the EU. The fishing industry faces massive uncertainty and potentially huge challenges from a no-deal Brexit, but the shellfish sector looks to be disproportionately affected whether we get a deal or not.

The first thing you need to know is that there isn’t just one fishing industry. There are dozens of sectors, each with specialist fishers with different gear – which also varies depending on the season and area of the water. That makes debates about fishing sometimes either too general to cover all the variety in fishing. Trawlers tend to grab the headlines, but other sectors deserve our attention too and includes shellfish.

Crabs and lobsters landed around the UK receive the highest prices when shipped live via vivier lorries (trucks designed to ship live shellfish from harbour to market) to the EU. They provide the single high-value, highvolume market, and with just months to go until the end of the Brexit transition period the industry’s uncertainty and frustrations are palpable.

The new financial burdens that could be caused by tariffs seem to be the least of worries for this sector. It is more likely the costs associated with the loss of frictionless trade that will bite the hardest. But the uncertainty that still exists just months before a new regime dawns means that for most there is little they can do to plan a direction for their businesses, all of which affects cashflow.

Hauliers have predicted that costs associated with customs clearance may double or triple the current costs of frictionless trade for their clients. Estimates of costs from local authorities for producing health certificates vary hugely with a recent International Trade select committee hearing being told that quotes had varied from £50 to £800. These financial barriers remain a great concern for the sector. There is an argument for Government to step in and regulate these new burdens but even then, many feel smaller clients in the EU market will simply be priced out and will be forced to look elsewhere.

At the time of writing, we have no confirmation of which existing ports and routes in the EU markets will accept vivier lorries, or indeed fresh or frozen fisheries products more broadly. It is for member states to apply for Border Inspection Point status at the EU level, but not all BIPs are created equal. They can for example take fresh, but no vivier or frozen shipments or any combination they see fit.

France is the main export market for crustaceans such as crab and lobster, followed by Spain, Portugal and Italy. France and Spain are the main markets for molluscs, scallops etc, and Spain, Italy and the Netherlands are of relevance for cephalopods such as cuttlefish. Most of them route through French ports and it will be for the French Government to apply and provide these routes with the BIPs needed to continue allow these markets to remain open, but it is in their gift not to.

These just in time markets mean that even a 24hr delay at borders run the risk of quality deteriorating, customers refusing goods and suppliers not being paid. The significant market share UK fisheries and shellfish products currently command across the EU is in part because of the quality of our fishermen’s catches but also the strong supply chains that have helped to build the market dominance – all based on a high-quality, next day delivery that looks to be eroded under any deal.

Hauliers admit that serious consideration in advance of the final word on what the future landscape looks like is ongoing. For them it means that they have had to consider second day deliveries and the knock-on effect and costs associated with additional drivers manning lorries due to shift lengths.

The only certainty for the shellfish sector seems to be the uncertainty. It is unlikely these lucrative EU markets can be replaced easily or without significant upfront cost. Fresh live prices always beat processed or frozen prices and our UK merchants are already adept at tapping into new markets where opportunity arises, but with them often comes uncertainty. The recent development of the Chinese market which saw bumper quantities of Brown crab shipped in the past couple years, only to have a new testing regime for Cadmium introduced that meant live shellfish died while waiting for results shows how fragile these far flung markets can be.

Fishing might be the Brexit poster industry but the conditions for a coastal renaissance are far from in place. That needs to change if this industry is not to suffer from a hurried and uncertain Brexit.

Luke Pollard MP is the Shadow Environment Secretary. He represents Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, home to over 1,000 jobs in fishing.

Shadow Environment Secretary examines UK fishing post-Brexit

by editor time to read: 9 min