Shellfish Businesses Will Collapse "Entirely And Permanently" With Post-Brexit EU Ban, Government Warned
Parts of the UK's shellfish market face being lost forever if the European Union ban on live shellfish exports from most British waters remains in place, an industry figure has warned.
Speaking to the Scottish Affairs Committee on Thursday morning, the Clyde Fisherman’s Association's Elaine Whyte said that the indefinite ban, which PoliticsHome first revealed, was a "massive issue" that required "political intervention" from the government.
"You could be losing live markets entirely and permanently and there's no way around that at the moment," Whyte told MPs on the committee.
"We need to have some political dialogue on that to try and change the situation".
The European Commission last month wrote to the UK shellfish industry informing it that unpurified oysters, mussels, clams, cockles and scallops caught in most British waters were banned from the EU indefinitely since the UK left the Brexit transition period.
This was contrary to advice given to the industry by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
The government department had been telling UK shellfish businesses that the EU ban would only last until April 21, when the EU is set to implement new animal health regulations, and did not affect farmed shellfish.
Rob Benson, director of Cumbria-based seafood company Kingfisher Seafoods, told PoliticsHome that the news had "all but destroyed any hope we had of the future".
Like many other seafood exporters in the UK, Benson's company is reliant on EU trade.
Most of the 17-year-old company's cockle and mussel exports go to Spain and France, where they are purified and then sent to supermarkets, restaurants and bars.Environment Secretary George Eustice on Wednesday defended the government's handling of the shellfish crisis, telling a Lords sub-committee that Brussels had changed its position on live shellfish imports twice and that its current stance was "legally wrong" and unjustified".
Eustice and Fisheries Minister Victoria Prentis were due to meet with seafood exporters on Thursday afternoon to discuss the ban, which is mainly affecting fish traders in England and Wales.
However, the UK shellfish industry yesterday received a new email from the European Commission, which set out the legal basis for the bloc's ban on certain shellfish from third countries like the UK.
The email said that "animal and public health rules for the import into the EU of live bivalve molluscs from third countries are clear and have been elaborated during the last 30 years by the EU Institutions and its Member States".
The European Commission believes that DEFRA misunderstood EU law when it advised the shellfish industry that the ban, which has been in place since January 1st, would expire on April 21.