UK issues guidelines on new relief fund for fishing, aquaculture businesses

The UK government, through the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), has published guidelines on the Seafood Response Fund (SRF), which is designed to help UK fishing and shellfish aquaculture businesses that have been affected by the downturn of export and domestic markets for fish and shellfish due to the Covid-19 pandemic and/or disruption to seafood exports earlier this year.

The SRF is expected to directly contribute towards the fixed business costs of approximately 2,500 eligible fishing and shellfish aquaculture businesses. It will be administered by the MMO on behalf of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural affairs (DEFRA).

Who is eligible

To be eligible for the SRF, an applicant must be one of the following:

  • A qualifying business within the UK catching sector
  • A qualifying shellfish business within the UK aquaculture sector

Qualifying businesses – catching sector

Qualifying fishing businesses must meet the following criteria:

  • They must be the owner of a fishing vessel of under 40 metres in overall length registered in the UK.
  • Vessels must be licenced to fish by the relevant UK fisheries administration in which they are primarily administered. Vessels administered by Crown Dependencies or Overseas Territories are not included within this scheme.
  • The vessel must be currently registered with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).
  • The vessel must have had sales of £10,000 (US$13,950) or more, recorded on sales notes supplied by registered buyers and sellers of fish, between January 1, 2019 and December 31, 2019.
  • The vessel must have evidence of landing fish caught over the winter period (December, January, February and March) in the years 2017–2021.

The scheme has been set up to help support the fixed business costs of fishing vessels registered in the UK. Fishing vessel owners may continue to fish and may also qualify to receive payment in addition to other government assistance, including the business loan scheme, self-employed income support scheme, and other benefits.

Businesses that have applied to the Scottish Seafood Resilience Fund (SSRF) may still be eligible, if they received less than they would have been paid from the SRF. These businesses will be contacted direct and any sum received from the Scottish scheme will be deducted from the SRF payment.

Qualifying businesses – aquaculture sector

To qualify, businesses must:

  • Operate an active shellfish aquaculture farm in the UK, cultivating and harvesting shellfish for consumption such as mussels, clams, oysters
  • Be authorised by the relevant fish health inspectorate in which the business operates

Businesses that do not qualify are:

  • Shellfish hatcheries, or businesses involved only in the supply of juvenile shellfish for aquaculture
  • Businesses involved only in the processing of shellfish or seafood products
  • Aquaculture farms that produce anything other than shellfish (i.e. salmon or trout farms or lobster pools)

Payments

The MMO will contact eligible businesses directly, in phases, by email from the week commencing March 8, 2021. The email will include a link to the online system where individuals can provide their details.

Interested parties are advised to submit details by the given deadline in order to expedite payment. The aim is to make the majority of the payments by March 31.

State aid implications

Under the Northern Ireland Protocol, EU state aid rules continue to apply to grants in Northern Ireland.

Funding under this scheme to businesses in Northern Ireland will be given under the EU Temporary state aid framework. Further details on this are to be found in the FAQs.


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