A TASK FORCE set up to help the Scottish seafood industry has produced its final report.
The group was established as a reaction to complaints by producers and exporters that Brexit had caused damaging delays in getting seafood into the EU and beyond.
Firms said they were having their shipments rejected due forms filled in using the wrong colour of ink, or confusion over paperwork.
Others reported lengthy delays getting trucks through customs, to the point produce was spoiling or its value declining as it was not as fresh.
Led by junior Scotland office minister David Duguid, the group also comprised of industry representatives and Scottish Government officials, including Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs Mairi Gougeon.
The short report was quietly published yesterday on the UK Government website, with no statement or release from Westminster as is normal for official reports.
Despite calls for an extension to the task force by some industry groups, it has disbanded.
However ministers from both governments have agreed to continue discussions with industry representatives, and a new group is to meet on Tuesday of next week.
The 17-page report details the meetings and activities of the taskforce, highlighting a commitment to digitising the system for Export Health Certificates (EHCs) and exploring the option of a Scotland-based ‘clearing house’ for exports.
This would have ensured that firms could check all their paperwork was compliant with EU rules before leaving Scotland.
However the report states: “Due to EU law it is not possible to have EU customs clearance outside of the EU.”.
Asked whether the situation had now improved for Scottish seafood exporters since the turn of the year, Elspeth McDonald, CEO of Scottish Fishermen’s Federation told The Herald the issues experienced initially after Brexit had dwindled.
However, she explained that further problems are now emerging in terms of labour shortages, as producers were heavily reliant on European workers, who have either not remained in the UK since Brexit or may have left due to the pandemic.
Asked if the problems with exports reported earlier this year had been resolved, Ms McDonald said: “It has in relation to the problems that are in the report.
“I think it’s probably fair to say there’s a whole heap of new problems coming up behind it. I think like most parts of the sector, certainly the processing side of the industry is really struggling with labour.
“That’s a real problem. It’s not the type of work that is necessarily particularly attractive.
“It’s cold, in the middle of the night, it’s repetitive. And so certainly people in the processing side are particularly anxious about continued labour supply.”
The SNP has criticised the decision to disband the task force today, despite Ms Gougeon calling for discussions to be maintained in some form until the end of 2021 –which the UK Government has agreed to.
SNP MSP for Banff and Buchan Karen Adam said: “After just six months and only eight meetings, the Westminster government’s taskforce has submitted its final report so you might expect that the numerous problems faced by our vital seafood industry have been resolved.
“Spoiler alert – they have most certainly not and the job is not even half done.”
Ms Adam cited the problems with labour shortages, and claimed that SNP requests “to extend this taskforce until a satisfactory outcome is achieved” had “fallen on deaf ears.”
Tavish Scott, CEO of the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation and former Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, previously called for the taskforce to be extended.
He said today that it was vital both the UK and Scottish Governments continued to work with the industry to ensure it is not penalised.
He said: “Scotland’s salmon farmers value both our governments working together on the issues that confront our future success as a sector.
“The Taskforce was helpful for that. So if the UK government has decided to end this, we look forward to its proposal on how the UK and Scottish governments will work together. Business doesn’t need conflict – we want cooperation.”
Junior Scotland Office minister David Duguid said the SNP’s criticisms were “nonsense”.
He said: ” It’s nonsense for the SNP to dismiss the hard work and many achievements delivered by governments and industry through the taskforce.
“Far from it, so successful was the format in delivering results for an industry essential to many of our coastal communities, it was agreed by all – including the Scottish Government – that ongoing engagement with stakeholders would continue and I look forward to chairing the new Scottish Seafood Industry Action Group on Tuesday.
“The group, which includes the Scottish Government and key industry figures, will continue to focus its energies on collaborative working and success for the sector, rather than waste time on misguided, cheap political point scoring.”