The prime minister has promised compensation totalling £23m to fish traders whose exports to the EU have been disrupted through no fault of their own.
The scale of damage to the industry was starkly illustrated by photographs of the UK’s largest fish market, in Peterhead near Aberdeen, all but deserted after boats cut back on catches they are no longer able to sell into EU markets.
James Withers, the chief executive of the Scotland Food and Drink body, who shared the images on social media, said: “What a sad sight. Europe’s biggest fish market in Peterhead like a ghost town. Built to deal with 10,000 boxes a day but with a few hundred.
“Boats tied up, exporters crippled. No Brexit image of lorry queues, it’s the sight of trade that isn’t moving at all.”
Meat exporters to the EU said they were also encountering problems with lengthy new customs and health checks. Additional delays and costs have led to customers cancelling orders and meat having to be destroyed at a cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Zoe Davis from the National Pig Association told the PoliticsHome website that pig heads, exported from the UK to European buyers for products such as sausages and pâté, had been stuck at Rotterdam for weeks for sanitary checks.
“It's eye-watering what our members have to do," she said. “And it is going to be an ongoing issue that gets worse as more and more people decide to export to the EU."
David Lindars from the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said that more than 120 lorries carrying British meat were stuck at Rotterdam, including one that has been there since 1 January.
“This is food that is sold and then cannot reach its destination due to clerical bureaucracy and the misunderstanding of the rules we and they are operating to," he told PoliticsHome.
What a sad sight. Europe’s biggest fish market in Peterhead like a ghost town. Built to deal with 10,000 boxes/day but with a few hundred.
Boats tied up, exporters crippled.
No Brexit image of lorry queues, it’s the sight of trade that isn’t moving at all. Pics via @will051266 pic.twitter.com/JLCYRCGh3P
— James Withers (@scotfoodjames) January 19, 2021
“All paperwork is checked for 100 per cent of products entering the EU and the number of issues raised at the border control posts determine whether a truck is held for hours, days, or even weeks. There are huge issues with a system that is fundamentally not designed for a short shelf-life food.
“The Scottish fishermen are going to get compensated as an industry. What have we been offered so far? Nothing. Exporters will have to pay for disposal cost, so there’ll be another bill coming.”
The National Sheep Association said there were huge hold-ups to deliveries of lamb which were hitting profits.
Mr Withers said the scenes at Peterhead showed there was a real crisis in the fishing industry.
"Even during the height of the pandemic when a lot of markets were restricted, there were still thousands of boxes being landed every day at the market,” he said.
“What this shows is Brexit being a sudden shock to the whole system and export supply chain. We warned that systems weren't ready at the end of last year and those warnings weren't heeded.
“What has happened is that the door to the EU market has slammed shut for a lot of seafood exporters and that is now having a ripple effect right through the supply chain, where fishing boats are tied up in harbour, not out catching, and we're seeing these kind of sparse number of boxes landing on what is normally a market that would be very busy.”
A UK Government spokeswoman said: "We recognise that the fishing industry is facing some temporary issues following the end of the transition period, some of which are the responsibility of devolved administrations and some the responsibility of UK government, and we are looking at what additional financial support we can provide to those businesses affected.
"We continue to extensively engage and work closely with representatives of the industry from across the UK, and the authorities in EU member states, to understand and address any issues with documentation. Our priority is to ensure that goods can continue to flow smoothly to market.”