A lobster exporter who is winding up his 60-year-old family business has blamed the government for failing to be honest about Brexit red tape and hidden costs.
Sam Baron, who worked alongside his father to set up Baron Shellfish in Bridlington, east Yorkshire, said the government had failed to be straight with the fishing industry.
Industry experts said that Baron Shellfish, the first lobster-tank business in Europe’s largest shellfish port, appears to be the first big exporter to have announced its closure.
Speaking from Bridlington on Monday, where he is in the process of dismantling hundreds of lobster crates, Baron said: “All we have had is bullshit from the government, promises that haven’t been kept. I am winding up the business while I still have enough to pay redundancy to my staff.
“People say Boris has tried his best, but it just hasn’t been enough,” he said. “It’s the extra costs and uncertainty. We have to fill in new health notes, and there is a lot of new paperwork, including the catch certificates. Every time you put lobsters on transport, if anything in the paperwork is wrong, you have lost everything.
“It is all Brexit-related – the extra costs, extra paperwork and the extra gamble – and it is down to the government and the EU. Every time you send out transport with lobster, it is like playing Russian roulette with five bullets in your gun.”
While inside the common market, Baron’s company bought lobsters from businesses in Bridlington and sold to countries including Spain, Belgium and Italy. He has exported up to five tonnes of lobster a week to mainland Europe.
Baron, 58, who voted to remain but came round to the idea of leaving the EU, is planning to pay off three members of staff and sell his crates and vehicles. “I voted to stay in because I was worried about the business. But I wish we had never gone into the EU in the first place,” he said.
Many fishers have been unable to export to the EU since catch certificates, health checks and customs declarations were introduced at the start of this year, delaying their deliveries and prompting European buyers to reject them.
Trucks with slogans such as “Brexit carnage” and “incompetent government destroying shellfish industry” parked metres from Downing Street in London last month. Boris Johnson has described the changes as “teething problems”, and said they had been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The prime minister has said an additional £23m fund had been created to compensate businesses that “through no fault of their own have experienced bureaucratic delays, difficulties getting their goods through where there is a genuine buyer on the other side of the Channel”.
Baron said his late father, Mick, who died three years ago, would have been furious with the way his family firm and the industry had been treated by the EU and the government. “He would have been up in arms. He might have got his 12-bore [shotgun] out. This is not what we were promised.”
In a further indication of Brexit-related problems in the fishing industry, George Eustice, the environment secretary, told the Commons on Monday he had written to the EU commission “seeking urgent resolution” to barriers placed on some UK shellfish exports.
Under longstanding EU rules, catches of live bivalve molluscs such as mussels, oysters, scallops, cockles and clams from non-EU member states can only be imported without treatment if they come from waters deemed of the highest quality. These rules have closed off many exports of live bivalve molluscs from the UK since Brexit took full effect.
Responding to an urgent question on shellfish exports, Eustice said: “Bringing an end to this traditional and valuable trade is unacceptable and I recognise that this is a devastating blow to those businesses that are reliant on the trade.
“While we do not agree at all with the commission’s interpretation of the law, we have had to advise traders that their consignments may very well not be accepted at EU ports for now.
“I am seeking urgent resolution to this problem and I have written to commissioner [Stella] Kyriakides today. I have emphasised our high shellfish health status and our systems of control and I have said if it would assist the trade we could provide reasonable additional assurances to demonstrate shellfish health.”
A government spokesperson said ministers were working closely with fishing industry representatives and the authorities in EU member states to ensure that goods could continue to flow smoothly to their markets.
“We have announced a £23m scheme which will provide crucial support for fishermen and seafood exporters, who have experienced delays and a lack of demand for fish from the restaurant industry in the UK and Europe. This is in addition to the £100m fund announced by the prime minister last month,” he said.
Yorkshire lobster exporter says Brexit costs have forced it to close