Compensation welcomed but more help needed for seafood sector

AM Shellfish Ltd, led by Allan Miller, formerly of Tarbert, take their message to London. Photograph: Lee Elliott.
AM Shellfish Ltd, led by Allan Miller, formerly of Tarbert, take their message to London

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While news of a £23million compensation package for the seafood sector has been welcomed this week, local companies exporting fish and shellfish to the EU say that they need more than a ‘sticking plaster’ approach to fix the situation.

In protest at bureaucratic delays which have added hours and hours to the process of getting fresh produce to customers in the EU, a mass convoy of 21 lorries arrived at Parliament Square, Westminster just yards from Number 10 Downing Street on Monday.

Firms from Scotland, Wales and England joined the motorcade, including a lorry from Islay Crab Exports Ltd of Port Ellen.

Organiser Allan Miller, originally of Tarbert, who now runs Aberdeen-based shellfish supply company AM Shellfish Ltd, said that Brexit had been ‘devastating’ for the sector.

Allan Miller of AM Shellfish Ltd, said the protest attracted ‘phenomenal’ media interest. Photograph: Lee Elliott.

The show of frustration was designed to highlight the changes that are needed for the seafood sector which is faced with having to load up a full 24 hours earlier in order to get produce to the continent.

Mr Miller explained the delays seriously impacted the quality of Scotland’s seafood which is revered throughout Europe – particularly if drivers faced further obstacles with ferry delays.

AM Shellfish passes by the Houses of Parliament on Monday January 18, 2021. Photograph: Lee Elliott.

‘The whole process of exporting needs to be urgently streamlined as companies are haemorrhaging money left, right and centre and facing losses week after week,’ Mr Miller added.

He also expressed his amazement that in a digital age, exporting remained heavy reliant on physical ‘paperwork’ and that a simple error in the documentation could also further frustrate getting exports out.

Commenting on the compensation package offered this week, he said: ‘While the money will help some, it was not the point of the protest. We’re looking for fixes to the problems.’

In a letter to Alistair Jack MP, Secretary of State for Scotland, Argyll and Bute council leader Robin Currie wrote: ‘The industry has been a mainstay and a major employer in the area for many decades, sustaining not only the local economy but making a significant contribution to the Scottish and UK economies.

‘Now, though, I am hearing from fishing families of long standing, newer start-up businesses and companies employing hundreds of people in total, that if urgent
action is not taken, they will have to close their doors for good. This would be devastating for Argyll and Bute, where the sector comprises many single family-operated vessels, smaller fleets, artisan producers, as well as some medium to larger enterprises.’

Speaking to the Courier from his home on Islay, Councillor Currie said: ‘I welcome any assistance that can be given to the sector, but the important thing is that they want to carry on their livelihood and that must be forefront when tackling these issues.’