“All but destroyed”, EU extends ban UK shellfish

The EU has decided to push back indefinitely a ban on shellfish imported from the UK. The ban was originally set to expire in April. But industry insiders are livid with the UK government for not providing enough support. They are “removing all our teeth and leaving us unable to eat,” says an angry director of a large shellfish business.

The UK’s wild shellfish industry was alarmed to learn it had been left out of the December trade deal with the EU and prohibited from selling unprocessed molluscs like mussels and oysters into the bloc.

The sector was waiting on new animal health legislation to be introduced into the EU in late April when it could finally start exporting to the Continent again. However, last week, the European Commission said the ban would continue until further notice.

A Commission email sent last week said it will remain “strictly forbidden for bivalve molluscs originating from third countries, [such] as UK” to enter the EU market if they are not ready for human consumption.

Usually these types of shellfish, all different species of mollusc, are sent to the EU to be processed so that they are safe to consume, but a direct route to processing has been ruled out.

“Molluscs accompanied by an aquaculture certificate, wild or from aquaculture, cannot in any case reach a depuration centre in the EU,” the email adds.  

The industry, which is concentrated in England and Wales and generates millions in income each year, says the Commission update was “contrary to the information we had previously received” from the British government, adding that it would have “huge implications”. 

“We will continue to raise the issue of live bivalve molluscs not ready for human consumption with the EU, to ensure the trade can continue securely,” a government source told Politics Home.

The EU’s ban may backfire. One of the biggest players in the UK’s shellfish sector, Kingfisher Seafoods says it would have to invest £1 million to set up processing capacity. Getting the new infrastructure in place would mean a stronger footing for selling in to the EU and other markets and a bigger UK shellfish industry as a whole.

However, with the sector facing a cliff edge as a result of the interminable ban and the government viewed as “not doing their job to safeguard the industry,” says Kingfisher Director, Rob Benson, it is hoped DEFRA will step in “to safeguard the industry”.

“Our business relies almost entirely on sending live cockles and mussels for further processing in the EU,” adds Benson.

“Our sales have dropped off a cliff since December 31st. We were bracing ourselves to keep going until April but this news has all but destroyed any hope we had of the future. 

“This is not a teething issue, this is the government removing all our teeth and leaving us unable to eat”.

“Before December 31 we were in the EU and DEFRA was responsible for policing imports from third countries. Now we are out of the EU how come it is only now we are told of the situation. It’s like saying a policeman who’s been on the beat for the last 50 years didn’t know the law”.