Defra sets up £23m fund for UK seafood exporters hit by Brexit

Seafood exporters hit by Brexit red tape and delays will be able to claim up to £100,000 in compensation, the government has said.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) confirmed that it was putting in place a £23m compensation package for firms exporting fish and shellfish to the EU that can show they have suffered “genuine loss”.

Boris Johnson originally disclosed the government’s intentions after seafood hauliers descended on Westminster on Monday to protest at the terms of the Brexit trade deal, which has left them struggling to access EU markets.

The introduction of new checks and paperwork since the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December has caused huge disruption to exports of fresh fish and seafood to the EU, with producers becoming increasing frustrated at the lack of government action.

Defra said the scheme would be targeted at small and medium-sized operators, with payments made retrospectively to cover losses incurred since 1 January.

The government will consult with the industry across the UK on the eligibility criteria – as well as working with the devolved administrations – with details to be announced in the “coming days”.

Barrie Deas, the head of the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, welcomed “a financial safety net for businesses at risk of failure” but called for “emergency support for fishing vessels impacted as well”.

Donna Fordyce, the chief executive of Seafood Scotland, also welcomed the announcement of “short-term assistance” but said the government needed to do more to support the sector.

“Money will offer a much-needed sticking plaster covering the losses over the last few weeks, but to completely staunch the wound, the sector still needs a period of grace during which the systems must be overhauled so they are fit for purpose,” she said.

Fishing companies have said they have already lost millions of pounds as fish perishes or orders are cancelled because they have been unable to provide the paperwork required by EU importers.

The environment secretary, George Eustice, said: “This £23m scheme will provide crucial support for fishermen and seafood exporters, who have experienced delays and a lack of demand for fish from the restaurant industry in the UK and Europe.

“We are continuing to work closely with the fishing and aquaculture sectors to make sure that they are supported, and can continue to fish whilst contributing to the economies of our coastal communities.”

Scotland’s fisheries secretary, Fergus Ewing, said the UK government must ensure that its compensation package is open to all whose business has been interrupted or harmed by any aspect of the new export requirements.

He said: “It is very clear that the UK government should have extended the transition period, as we called for, due to the pandemic and lack of progress in the negotiations.”

Tavish Scott, chief executive of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, welcomed the details of the compensation scheme but stressed that the priority was getting salmon to customers in the EU quickly and efficiently.

He said: “Compensation may help a limited number of seafood businesses and that would be welcome. The salmon farming sector is worth £300m every year in exports to Europe. Our sector simply wants the ability to successfully sell fish into this European marketplace. That objective has been riven by difficulties since 1 January. Sorting out these endless problems for exporting salmon companies should be the top priority of government.”