By Elisabeth O’Leary
EDINBURGH (Reuters) – Fewer Scottish langoustines, scallops and salmon will reach the plates of gourmands in the European Union if there is a no-deal Brexit because border delays could mean they rot before they can be delivered, fishing officials said.
Scottish fishermen plan to reduce their catches if Britain exits the European Union on March 29 without a transition deal, in order to avoid potential losses, industry officials said.
Scotland accounts for most of the fish caught in the United Kingdom, which is the second-biggest provider of fish from the EU after Spain.
While some businesses are stockpiling to prepare for any disruption, that is not an option with fresh fish.
People in the industry are worried about how Scottish mackerel and prawns will get to key markets in France, the Netherlands and Spain if there are transport jams at the border.
Some firms could go bust, according to Jimmy Buchan, chief executive of processors’ group the Scottish Seafood Association.
Scotland’s fishing sector vociferously backed the Brexit campaign ahead of the referendum in 2016. Fishermen say EU membership weakened the industry over decades by giving quotas to trawlers from other EU countries with smaller fishing stocks.
But they have concerns about what a no-deal Brexit could mean for the United Kingdom’s fish exports which, including processed fish, are worth around 1.9 billion pounds a year.
Britain exports 75 percent of the fish it catches, and 75 percent of that goes to the EU.
“My market for posh prawns is not the UK,” said Buchan, who is worried about routes to the French market.
“I do feel that at this late stage we don’t know enough about planning. Unless someone puts on a ferry route or guarantees the French will not impede the free flow of traffic, what are we supposed to do?”
To ease potential logjams, the government has contracted additional freight capacity at ports in southern England to ease the burden on main hub Dover and is building lorry parks along motorways nearby.
“When I ask government about transport issues, I do not get the reassurances I need,” Buchan said.
The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) said temporary disruption is worth it if it means Britain can quickly rid itself of EU fishing rules.
“We are less scared than other industries,” said Bertie Armstrong, the SFF’s chief executive.
“The first solution is to temporarily fish less. You don’t want to land it ashore for it to rot or not go anywhere,” he said.
“Secondly there are some smaller outfits running small boats in remote places which may indeed need some (financial) help to survive that period before new markets are opened.”
The scale of such support from the public coffers is likely to depend on the duration of any hit to the industry.
Scotland’s government estimates that transport disruption after a no-deal Brexit could last three to six months, Armstrong said.
Plans are also being made to cut back on the supply of salmon, Britain’s biggest food export by value.
Scottish salmon farms — which are not subject to the same EU rules as fish caught at sea— expect to slow their harvesting in the days after March 29, but such a move would not address any longer-term logistics problems, an industry source said.
“A negotiated outcome between the UK and the EU is preferable to a no-deal scenario,” Julie Hesketh-Laird, CEO of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, said.
“Exiting the EU without a deal would almost certainly place fresh barriers in the way of the export of farmed salmon to the continent.”
(Reporting by Elisabeth O’Leary; Editing by William Schomberg)