Government to end trial digital certification scheme for salmon exports in blow to industry

Thu 10 Aug 2023
Posted by: Danielle Keen
Trade News

Salmon leaping in river

The government is set to end an electronic certification pilot scheme that enabled cheaper and faster exports of salmon, raising concerns about the future competitiveness of the industry’s exports.

As an already heavily regulated product, British salmon served as a test case for digitalising EU-mandated trade documentation, including catch certificates, in a bid to minimise the impact of post-Brexit checks on food exports.

The Guardian reports that DEFRA has told companies that the scheme will end. It had been running since September 2021.

What does this mean for salmon exports?

Without the scheme’s ability to reduce physical inspections of fish and time-sapping red tape, increased administrative and personnel costs could damage exporters’ bottom lines.

Laura Williams, a trade and customs consultant at the Institute of Export and International Trade (IOE&IT), offered an explanation of the scheme’s benefits:

“You would be able to assign recognised personnel within your company who would be authorised to create the digital version of the catch certificate.

“That would then be uploaded onto the system and it would follow that product to its end user, giving it its authorisation.

“They wouldn't need to submit all their documentation to a fishery inspector.

Williams said that without the scheme, the process of getting and completing physical certificates would create additional costs for businesses.

“All of this costs money – whether that’s inspections or applying for certificates,” she said.

Delays

In addition to inspections, the logistics of sending salmon to the appropriate processing plants, and booking one of a limited number of fishery inspectors in advance of shipment, can lead to damaging delays.

Williams continues:

“If exporters can't get it out to the quality it’s expected, it can actually be refused by the end customer, and in that case obviously it's a loss for the business.

“You can't then resend it to the UK because that means it will be inedible by the time it gets back. There's a very strict turnaround with regards to how quickly, from it being caught, it should be within the French processing plants before going on to the restaurants.

“Additionally, if there's a delay with a vessel coming in to offload, possibly due to weather, they might miss their slot with their inspector to obtain their catch certificate, which means they can no longer sell the salmon as a fresh product. They might have to put it in the frozen section, which devalues the commodity immediately.”

Reputational hit

Concerns have been raised about what impact the double-blow of delays and costs will have on Britain’s largest food export.

Williams explains:

“British Salmon is a worldwide-recognised product and if we don't do something to assist the industry, we are going to end up in a position where the product becomes subpar.

“Norwegian salmon is our largest competitor, and they actually have a larger share in the market.

“If we want to be able to operate on a fair international playing field, then we have to have the same operating ability as they do.”

Reduce burden

Travish Scott, CEO of Scottish Salmon, echoed these concerns, telling the Guardian:

“Farm-raised salmon is the UK’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 UK economies.”

However, a spokesperson from DEFRA insisted that the digitisation scheme will be rolled out eventually, saying:

“As has always been the case, the first pilot is ending with the intention of moving into a second phase of delivering fully digitised certification for exports.

“We will begin to test this new and improved service from early 2024, and will draw upon the feedback and insights learnt in the pilots.

“This will provide the capacity to send digital certificates to the EU and further afield, delivering more than the original testing programme.”