Shellfish workers in Cornwall fear losing their homes after it was announced exports to the European Union could be banned indefinitely.
Since 1st January, the EU has stopped British fishermen from selling oysters, scallops, clams, cockles and mussels, known as live bivalve molluscs (LBM), that are caught in so-called “Class B” waters.
The government says it is seeking an “urgent resolution”, while the European Commission told Sky News the ban, on health grounds, applies to all third countries and “is not a surprise” to the UK.
It has resulted in some fishermen saying their incomes have stopped completely.
“There are people here that have turned to drink”
Speaking to Sky, Tim Heard said the situation is perilous for many on the south coast.
“If I never had a bit of money in the bank and my wife wasn’t working, I think we’d be out of a house.
He added: “There are people here that have turned to drink because of the strength of this – they don’t know where to go, what to do, how to pay their bills.
“We thought we were going to carry on after Brexit – the market was supposedly sorted – but they slammed the door in my buyers’ face. I think it’s the EU teaching Britain a lesson for Brexit.”
“I got friends in Padstow that have spent in excess of two million pounds on crabbing – they’ve been stopped dead. I wouldn’t sleep at night,” he added.
Martin Laity, who runs the Sailors Creek Shellfish company, reemphasised what Heard had to say, saying:
“There’s a lot of mortgages. People need the money,” he said. “This month, people have managed to pay their mortgage, this next month coming they won’t be able to… There’s two or three people we buy from in that position, two or three who’ve taken to the drink.
“It’s tough and just seems very unnecessary.”
“This is not new EU policy. This has always been there”
Under current rules bivalve molluscs originating from countries outside the EU that are not ready for human consumption are “strictly forbidden”.
They would have previously been purified or processed in the EU before being distributed to supermarkets, restaurants and bars.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs had been advising shellfish traders that they would be able to resume live shellfish exports to the EU in late April when new animal health legislation came in.
However, according to an email seen by PoliticsHome that will not be the case.
Rob Benson, director of Kingfisher Seafoods Limited, said: “Our sales have dropped off a cliff since December 31st. We were bracing ourselves to keep going until April but this news has all but destroyed any hope we had of the future.
“This is not a teething issue, this is the government removing all our teeth and leaving us unable to eat”.
He added: “This is not new EU policy. This has always been there.
“This is the government not doing their job to safeguard the industry”.