End of post-Brexit trial export certificates system leaves UK seafood producers pushing for solution

A salmon farm in Scotland.

A trial health certificate system used by the United Kingdom in the wake of Brexit has come to an end, and seafood exporters worry the lack of a replacement will cost the seafood industry significant amounts of time and money.

The trial system digitized all of the health certificates needed to export fish and chilled food to Europe, a move designed to save time and money on post-Brexit paperwork that was suddenly needed after the U.K. and E.U. struck a trade deal and solidified the U.K.’s exit from the European Union in late 2020, going into effect on 1 January, 2021.

That trial system, The Guardian reported, is now coming to an end, and the U.K. Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) has not confirmed any replacement for the system.

 “Whilst moving to a fully digital service for export health certificates remains our ambition, we are planning to bring the current exercise to a close,” an official from Defra wrote to seafood companies.

Seafood companies, especially salmon exporters from Scotland, have dealt with Brexit-related trade delays since the country first exited the E.U. Soon after the country left, border disruptions caused salmon producers to face lengthy delays in shipping seafood, and the Scottish Salmon Producers Organization said dozens of truckloads of fish failed to leave the country on time. Producers blamed the U.K. government for the failures, and trade data confirmed that the salmon sector continued to face issues well into 2022. More recently shellfish producers told SeafoodSource that Brexit was still causing issues in May 2023.

Salmon Scotland Chief Executive Tavish Scott told The Guardian the delay costs have been ongoing since the start of Brexit, and the delay to a replacement digital health certificate system will only make things worse.

“We have been informed of a further delay to the introduction of an end-to-end digitized export paperwork system, which leaves salmon companies with ongoing red tape costs which have already been racking up for more than two and a half years,” he said, while urging the government to act quickly on the issue.

Seafood Scotland is urging the government to figure out a replacement for the trial system, and Seafood Scotland CEO Donna Fordyce said she is “disappointed” that the government failed to find a solution.

“More than a year after setting up a pilot program to test a new, digital system, which would save the Scottish seafood industry hundreds of thousands of man hours in completing paper forms, we still have nothing more permanent in place,” Fordyce said. “The pilot program has been halted, with no sign of when this will be restarted.  We would urge DEFRA to make this a priority to support seafood businesses so that they can export their highly perishable premium seafood in a nimble and efficient way as quickly as possible.”

Salmon from Scotland was a bright spot in U.K. food and drink exports during the Covid-19 pandemic, even with the added delays. Salmon exports alone accounted for GBP 355.9 million (then USD 492.1 million, EUR 414.5 million) in the first six months of 2021, and Salmon Scotland said the industry generates roughly GBP 760 million (USD 963 million, EUR 877 million) for the U.K. economy each year.

For that reason, it is urging the government to come up with a solution sooner rather than later.

“Farm-raised salmon is the U.K.’s largest food export, and we need governments to reduce the burden on our sector so that we can grow sustainably, produce more nutritious food, create highly skilled jobs, and boost the Scottish and U.K. economies,” Scott said.  

Photo courtesy of richardjohnson/Shutterstock


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