EU Bans UK Shellfish

3 February, 2021
Allan Peart

News broke this week that the export of live mussels, oysters, scallops, cockles, clams and certain other shell fish (those classed as 'live bivalve molluscs') would be subject to ongoing restrictions when exporting from the UK to the EU.

The market for these shellfish is a specialist one, worth around £12 million per annum, but for the fishers who operate in it these restrictions are devastating to their livelihoods.

Before Brexit shellfish caught in UK waters was normally purified or processed in the EU before being distributed to customers. A European Commission official wrote to the British Shellfish industry to confirm that the ban would remain in place indefinitely and would also extend to farmed shellfish.

Previously the UK government told affected businesses that the ban was set to expire on April 21, when Brussels implemented new animal health legislation.

The story of the U-turn first broke on Politcshome and Rob Benson, director of Kingfisher Seafoods Limited spoke to them about the ban.

"Our business relies almost entirely on sending live cockles and mussels for further processing in the EU. This is not a teething issue, this is the government removing all our teeth and leaving us unable to eat. This is not EU policy. This has always been there."

Rob Benson, Director of Kingfisher Seafoods Limited

In order to comply with the EU policy and escape the ban Kingfisher Seafoods would have to invest up to £1 million on processing equipment, as well as packaging and labelling, which is not feasible for them and many other fisheries who rely on the export live bivalve molluscs for their livelihoods.

The cause for the ban is the Class of the water these exports are caught in. The Class of water is determined by the level of E.Coli detected from samples in shellfish flesh.

Class A Waters: 80% of sample results must be less than or equal to 230 E.Coli / 100g with no result from the minimum of 10 annual samples exceeding 700 E.Coli/100g.

Class A waters are deemed as having almost no contaminants and can be exported directly for human consumption. Any products caught in Class A waters in the UK are not affected by this ban.

The problem lies in the fact that most waters that are fished in the UK are Class B, which have more contaminants and have to go through the purification process before they are eaten.

Class B waters have at least 8 samples taken per year and 90% of these must be less than or equal to 4600 E.Coli/100g with no sample exceeding this top amount.

Previously the UK was able to export these to the EU for the purification process but this will no longer be allowed.

Shellfish can be purified (depurated) by placing them in purpose built tanks of clean or artificial sea water. They must be left in there for however long it takes from them to become fit for human consumption, the water conditions in the tanks encourage the shellfish to filter out containments such as E.Coli.

As well as the time and financial investment it would cost fisheries to implement the changes needed to circumvent the ban, fish purified before exportation would also have a shorter shell life and be of lower quality due to the shipping times of exportation.

It is important to note that no fishery is arguing with the need to purify their catch, the problem lies in the fact that they can no longer rely on purification relationships they've held within the EU.

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