Fish industry figures say they are suffering from huge uncertainty over Brexit as they urged MPs to deliver on the vote to the leave the EU without further delay.
Buyers at Peterhead fish market in Aberdeenshire on Friday, the day the UK was scheduled to depart, described the process as a “shambles” and said politicians had managed the situation “appallingly”.
The north east port sees the highest volume of fish landings per year in the UK.
Fish processors, along with fishermen, have been a strong pro-Brexit voice but they have differing views on the best way forward from the current stalemate.
Andrew Charles, of Aberdeen-based processors J Charles, said: “I think it’s a shambles. We can’t plan ahead and we face huge uncertainty.
“We have to have a deal. It might not be a good deal, but we’ve got to have some kind of deal. And then we’ve got to take a long-term view and improve on that deal as the years go forward.”
Mr Charles, 56, added: “I think you’ve got to question if the House of Commons is fit for purpose. Because the way they’ve gone about managing this situation is appalling.
“We expected our Government to behave in a way that led us towards the Brexit that was democratically voted upon and deliver a deal. We should have had that by now.”
He said he believed a no-deal would be “catastrophic” for some of the UK’s smaller fish exporters.
“If you’re faced with £90 charges per consignment and freight charges going into Europe, many of these small exporters would shut their doors. So a no-deal from that perspective is just not an option,” he said.
The latest Government figures show UK vessels landed 724,000 tonnes of fish at home and abroad in 2017, with a value of £980 million.
The main exports are salmon, mackerel and herring, with France, the Netherlands and Spain the largest markets.
Robert Milne, of Peterhead-based processor J H Milne, said the industry feeling on what was to be Brexit Day was one of frustration.
He said: “I think the biggest problem for most fish merchants is the uncertainty. We’re not getting what we voted for. There’s nothing being delivered at the moment.
“Every time they go into Parliament, nobody’s coming up with any answers. They’re all just arguing amongst themselves.
“I haven’t got a clue what’ll happen. That’s the biggest problem, and everybody’s in the same boat. It’s bewildering. They’re not delivering what was voted for.”
At the fish market, there were concerns that another referendum could be on the cards, with one buyer saying it was an “absolute certainty”.
For Mr Milne, 49, a no-deal scenario would be preferable to further months of political wrangling.
He said: “From my business’s point of view, it would certainly be better just to go for a no-deal.
“I’m not saying all fish merchants would say the same. The guys that operate in the UK would certainly be of that mind, but the people that are exporting, they would have a different opinion.”
He added: “We voted for Brexit, let’s get it done. It’s taking too long and everybody’s getting more and more confused.”
The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) had hoped to see the UK fully leave the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) by 2020.
The arrangement sees 750,000 tonnes of fish taken out of UK waters every year by non-UK fishermen, according to the Federation.
Chief executive Bertie Armstrong said: “The sea of opportunity, the great benefits for the UK fishing industry lies in being outside the CFP, and today was meant to be day one.
“We’re frustrated at the delay, and we’re nervous and indeed angry at anybody who’s trying to frustrate the whole project.
“There’s everything to gain, nothing to lose and we’re not keen on any form of delay, or God help us, any cancellation of Brexit.”
Mr Armstrong urged politicians to proceed with the Withdrawal Agreement, saying further months of wrangling “hold danger for us”.
“Nothing has been given away, no red lines have been crossed yet with giving away fishing opportunities to the rest of Europe, and of course in further discussions that’s always a possibility,” he said.
He added that a no-deal Brexit was nobody’s preferred choice but the industry would cope.
Mr Armstrong said: “We would have complete control of our waters from day one.
“That would bring the fishing nations of Europe straight to the negotiating table with no fishing opportunities at all, in a mood to negotiate.”
He added: “The trade aspects are overblown. You have vendors and purchasers at either end in seafood and there’s a balance. For any punitive action to take place, it would hurt everybody.”