Environment Secretary George Eustice has struck back at the EU for extending its ban on UK imports of live shellfish, claiming Brussels’ move was “legally wrong” and “unjustified”.
British fishermen and businesses specializing in cockles, oysters, clams, mussels and scallops were shocked to learn last week that a ban on exports to the EU originally scheduled to expire in April had been extended indefinitely.
The majority of UK-sourced bivalve shellfish are processed in the bloc, making access to the EU market essential. Without investment in processing capacity, fishermen face disaster.
The industry, which generates millions in revenue each year, has laid the blame on the government for not doing enough to prepare businesses. They are “not doing their job to safeguard the industry,” said the director of one business.
The government has finally responded. Speaking before a House of Lords committee, Eustice explained that according to the UK’s agreement with the EU, the ban should be lifted once a certification scheme is put in place to enable exports of the highly regulated seafood.
“It’s fair to say that on that, the EU has changed its position,” Eustice told peers, adding, “and it only changed its position towards the latter part of last week”.
The former UKIP candidate went on to explain Brussels decided to impose a total ban on UK waters “late last week”.
“We think this is a misinterpretation of their own laws and is unjustified and our animal and plant health team is working up a technical dossier to continue the dialogue so we can get that particular issue unblocked.”
Last week, the European Commission threw out the April 21 expiry date on the ban with an email saying 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.
“Molluscs accompanied by an aquaculture certificate, wild or from aquaculture, cannot, in any case, reach a depuration centre in the EU,” the email added.
“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.
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. But with the sector facing collapse as a result of the never-ending ban. The government is seen to have failed the industry.
“Our business relies almost entirely on sending live cockles and mussels for further processing in the EU,” said Kingfisher director, Rob 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.”