Exporting seafood from the UK

Information on the legislation which applies to seafood exported from the UK including food safety and health certificates required.

January 2021: This page is currently being reviewed as it contains information which was relevant when the UK was in the EU. For guidance on trading with the EU from 1st January 2021, go to our UK exit from the EU page. 

What legislation covers seafood exports?

The UK places no particular controls on exports other than those relevant to all food businesses, i.e. those related to compliance with food law. Businesses producing food for export will be subject to official controls by the UK authorities, as all food producing businesses are, including controls required for registration and approval.

Exports are covered by Article 12 of Regulation 178/2002, which states that food exported or re-exported from the Community for placing on the market abroad needs to comply with relevant food law. In addition, Article 11 of Regulation 852/2004 requires food for export to comply with the following hygiene requirements in particular:

  • the specific requirements in Regulation 853/2004
  • microbiological criteria
  • hygiene procedures
  • temperature control and maintenance of the cold chain;
  • sampling and analysis
  • the requirement to have in place a permanent documented procedure based on HACCP principles

Food will have to comply with the requirements of the importing country where these are different from Community law, or at the request of the importing country. It is the responsibility of the exporter to identify what the importing country's requirements are, to take the necessary measures to meet them and to carry out any confirmatory checks. Food that is compliant with the importing country's requirements but non-compliant with EU requirements may be exported if an agreement has been obtained from the authorities of the receiving country. However, unsafe food may not be exported.

There is a special requirement for a catch certificate to accompany all exports and re-exports of fresh or frozen toothfish (Dissostichus spp). This is detailed in Regulation  1035/2001 as amended most recently by Regulation 1368/2006.

What food safety requirements do importing third countries have in place for imported seafood?

Each importing non-EU country has its own legislation governing seafood imports.

EU hygiene regulations are considered to be stringent compared to the health regulations in force in most non-EU countries (third countries). Some third country authorities will allow the importation of seafood from the EU with standard EU veterinary health certificates, either because they have an arrangement with the EU or in the knowledge that such seafood would also comply with their regulations. The majority of importing countries, however, have supplementary requirements, or require a certificate defined by the national authority of that country.

Before producing food for a specific third country, it is advisable to obtain as much information as possible on any specific requirements the importing country may have in excess of UK and EU requirements. Your contacts in the third country may be able to provide this, and there are other sources of information (listed below). The importing country requirements may include data on particular process parameters (such as temperature); specific microbiological criteria (e.g. some may require results of Salmonella testing); or specific labelling. The onus for obtaining this information rests with the exporting company, not the UK authorities.

Third countries often have other specific documentary requirements, such as permits for importing animal products, and some may require document processing fees. Usually, these documents will have to be completed in the language of the importing country. Occasionally, there may be no standard set criteria that have to be satisfied; instead, the third country authorities will provide a list of requirements that have to be written into a certificate.

There are restrictions in the trade of endangered species (those on the CITES list) and some countries have restrictions in force to protect their native or farmed stocks from disease. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) also recommends that you contact the embassy of the importing country to check whether there are any restrictions on that particular product.

Who issues seafood health certificates in the UK?

Most third country authorities require a certificate in their prescribed format, signed by the relevant UK authority. In the UK, this function is devolved to the local authorities. Your local authority (LA) environmental health department (EHD) will generally be able to sign the foreign health certificate or, if required, issue a letter stating that the seafood products have been produced in establishments that meet UK food hygiene requirements. Your EHD will sign for any extra guarantees that the importing authorities require if the EHD is satisfied that any specific requirements have been met by the manufacturer. In general, the local EHD will try as far as possible to complete the certificate, although there is no legal requirement for the LA to do so - LAs do this work simply to assist local businesses. The LA will charge the exporter for this certificate.

In the case of live shellfish such as oysters, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) (and the equivalent organisations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales) is the inspection body, in conjunction with LAs, responsible for purification premises. They therefore may be required to guarantee certain aspects of the health certificate. You can find useful information in the Aquatic Animal Health and Movement guides here.

As an exception, exports to the Russian Federation need standardised EU-Russia health certificates signed by a District Veterinary Officer - the Animal and Plant Health Agency ( APHA) will be able to help with this.

Country-specific health certification requirements, documents, procedures and legislation

To obtain information on third country requirements, you should work your way through the following list and gather as much information as you can:

  • Look up what documentation you are likely to need by using the input form on the  European Commission's Market Access Database (link)
  • Speak to your contact abroad (the importing company or shipping agent)
  • Contact your Environmental Health Department and follow up on their advice
  • Contact UK Trade and Investment to hear if they have access to local information in the destination country (link)
  • Contact the trade department of the embassy of the importing country (link);
  • Get in touch with the UK embassy in the importing country (link).

In addition to health certification, importing countries usually require other documentation, such as a certificate of origin, a commercial invoice and a Customs import declaration. You can obtain more information from the sources below.

The European Commission's DG Trade site Exporting to the EU - what you need to know contains details of the required documents for importing food into most third countries. However, these lists of documents should be used only as a guide, and exporters should acquire more specific information from the sources listed in this document.

Other country-specific trade documents

The APHA is responsible for issuing some specific seafood export health certificates. You will need to contact the APHA before exporting seafood to China or Russia, and for certain seafood products also if exporting to Australia, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and the USA.

Chambers of Commerce
British Chambers support and advise businesses in all areas of international trade development. They are focused on exporting and maintain a national and worldwide network.

Markets and business development

The GOV.UK website gives practical support and provides information to assist businesses in trading globally. In particular see the Defra guide Exporting live animals or animal products to non-EU countries.

Further info

Export guides for EU and non-EU countries

Import guidance

Imports of fish and seafood from outside the EU are very strictly regulated.