Fish in net

The government had originally planned on introducing additional duties of 35% on white fish originating in Russia and Belarus at the end of March

The government has postponed a much-touted planned tariff on Russian white fish due to concerns over its impact on UK seafood supplies. 

On 15 March, it announced plans to introduce additional duties of 35% on white fish originating in Russia and Belarus along with a raft of other food and drink items. Chancellor Rishi Sunak said the measures – part of the government’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – would “inflict maximum damage on the Russian economy while minimising the impact on the UK”.

But The Grocer reported a fortnight ago that the tariff announcement had also caused “panic” across the UK fish sector, and could lead to shortages and price hikes, according to industry insiders.

Defra this week confirmed the tariff had been shelved, with no set date for future implementation, though it stressed it still intended to introduce the tax, ”subject to further work on the specific implications for the sector”. 

It added that, “the overall scope of products subject to the additional tariff will remain under review”. 

Responding to Defra’s decision, Andrew Crook, the president of the National Federation of Fish Friers (NFFF), suggested the government “was quite surprised by how reliant we were on Russian seafood”. 

According to industry body Seafish, Russia is currently responsible for 40% of fish exports globally, with much of the fish then processed in China, before being exported around the world. When the planned tariff was announced Seafish suggested it could affect up to 30% of UK fish imports.

It comes as the US imposed a ban on Russian seafood which had subsequently driven up prices for fish from the Nordics and increased competition of existing produce on the market.

According to Crook, white fish prices for use in the fish and chip sector had risen by 75% since October and continued to rise. He added that with fuel costs increasing and concerns over the impact of VAT rises set to pile pressure on the sector, the industry was now under enormous pressure.

“This is a constant fear, we don’t know what is around the corner. I expect there will be tariffs, which will force it up more and there could be a complete ban from one side or the other. We don’t know if that is going to happen or when,” Crook said.

Defra said it had been ”working closely with representatives across the seafood sector to understand the impacts these tariffs may have”.