Talks, not tit-for-tat action, are needed to resolve EU's shellfish ban, says Yorkshire peer Baroness McIntosh

A Yorkshire peer has called for the Government not to take “tit-for-tat action” against the European Union after it imposed a ban on certain types of shellfish being imported from the UK.

By Rob Parsons
Wednesday, 10th February 2021, 4:48 pm

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering today questioned a Minister about using the terms of last year’s Brexit agreement to end the ban on all exports to the EU of live bivalve molluscs, including cockles, mussels, scallops and oysters that are not ready for human consumption.

Environment Secretary George Eustice insisted there is “no legal barrier” to prevent the trade, and has called on the European Commission to abide by existing regulations.

The ban does not affect crabs or lobsters, which are the main fishing export on the Yorkshire coast, but Tory MP Robert Goodwill said this week that fishermen who land scallops in his Scarborough and Whitby constituency had been told there was no market for their fish.

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Members of the crew clean marks from the stern of the Honeybourne III, a Scottish scallop dredger, whilst in dock at Shoreham, West Sussex, following clashes with French fishermen in 2018. Pic by: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

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In the Lords today Rural Affairs Minister Lord Gardiner of Kimble said Mr Eustice had raised the matter with EU commissioner for health and food safety Stella Kyriakides and was “pressing for an urgent solution to enable trade to resume”.

Lady McIntosh asked him what plans the Government has to use the regulatory framework set up under the Brexit trade deal on December 24 to end the ban.

She said: “This would seem to be a classic case of an ideal solution being found by talking rather than taking tit for tat action.”

Lord Gardiner replied that the Government wanted to resolve the matter. He added: “And of course, what we want is to ensure smooth passage of exports of our excellent products.”

The export ban has brought a halt to fishing and harvesting of live bivalve molluscs and shut down a sector worth millions of pounds.

Live bivalve molluscs that are ready for human consumption can continue to be exported to the EU. But this is only the case if they have been cleaned in the UK or if they come from Class A waters, with the vast majority of molluscs coming from Class B waters.

There are currently barriers in place by the EU that mean that live bivalve molluscs from Class B waters which have not been purified cannot be exported from third countries, including the UK, to the EU for depuration.

Since January 1, UK firms have been able to send only pre-purified, ready-to-eat shellfish to buyers in the EU. This was expected to end on April 21 but the European Commision now says the current arrangement would be in place indefinitely.

There are currently no seafood processors in the UK equipped to clean large quantities of live bivalve molluscs.

Mr Eustice has told the BBC that the Commission changed its position last week, and that prior to that “they had been clear that this was a trade that could continue”.

French MEP Pierre Karleskind, who chairs the European Parliament’s committee on fisheries, said Brexit was to blame for the issues but that they do not make sense.

This week Lord Gardiner said the fishing and shellfish industries were “going through difficulties partly because of a reduction in demand due to Covid and partly because of issues that we need to resolve”.

The main catch for Yorkshire fishermen is shellfish from lobster pots, with Bridlington considered the lobster capital of Europe.

On Monday the owner of the first lobster tank business in Bridlington revealed he has been forced to close and alluded to Brexit restraints as the main reason. Baron Shellfish Limited will close its doors after 40 years of exporting lobsters and crabs to the European Union.