Importing seafood to the UK
The UK imported seafood to the value of £3.3 billion in 2019, including imports from the EU.
While movements of fish and fishery products are largely unrestricted within the EU, imports of fish and seafood from outside the EU are very strictly regulated. There are requirements for health certification and traceability for all imports and further guarantees on other specific consignments.
At the border, Port Health officials carry out a number of checks on the consignment. Precisely which checks they carry out depends on the consignment, the exporting country, legislation and the latest risk information.
Why have controls on seafood imports?
Import controls are in place to protect human and animal health, the environment, and to protect against fraud. Food originating outside the UK needs to have been produced to the same minimum standards as the ones that apply throughout the EU. Import controls at the border ensure that only food that conforms to national and European food safety legislation is allowed into the country. Examples of food that would be stopped at the border are fish containing unsafe levels of heavy metals, or shellfish containing biotoxins.
The importation of seafood and live fish into the UK is controlled from an animal health standpoint to protect our wild and farmed stocks from pests, diseases and the introduction of non-native species.
Regulation: The Legal Context
The UK operates trade controls according to the requirements of international law, the requirements as laid down by EU legislation and requirements specific to the UK.
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) requires its members to treat all other WTO members equally in terms of import tariffs and controls (the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) treatment). Restrictions in trade may be imposed only in certain specific circumstances. One of these circumstances is for 'measures necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health'.
The UK formally left the EU on 31 January 2020, entering an eleven-month transition period which closes on 31 December 2020. During transition, the UK remains in the EU's Single Market and Customs Union. EU regulations, in particular rules covering food hygiene and trade, continue to apply in the UK. We do not yet know the exact nature of the changes that will occur when the Transition Period comes to an end. For example, there may be changes to the importing regulatory landscape, and future international trade agreements may change the way the UK trades with some countries. You can follow the latest developments in the Changing Landscapes area of the Seafish website.
The main obligation of all seafood importers is to import only seafood that is safe and legally procured, and to submit the goods and accompanying documentation for official controls at the border.
Seafood produced in third countries (i.e. countries that are not in the EU) has to match EU standards in terms of hygiene and food safety if it is to be placed on the market in the UK or the EU. Similar general principles of food law and food safety that exist in the EU apply to this seafood all through the production chain. Many of these principles are laid out in Council Regulation 178/2002 and hygiene Regulations 852/2004 and 853/2004.
The conditions for importing are set out in The Trade in Animals and Related Products (TARP) Regulations 2011. The regulations implement in UK law the veterinary controls on live animals and products of animal origin (POAO) as required by the EU. This includes the appointment of Official Veterinary Surgeons (OVSs) and Official Fish Inspectors (OFIs) who apply such controls at the border, how to deal with non-conforming product and how to calculate charges for the veterinary checks and other official controls.
Official controls at the border are set out in EU official controls legislation – Regulation 2017/625 and its delegating and implementing acts. The Regulation stipulates that seafood originating from third countries has to be imported via a Border Control Point (BCP) which is approved to handle the relevant product category and has to be subjected to a series of veterinary checks.
Who does what in the UK?
A number of government departments, agencies, Local Authorities (LAs) and Port Health Authorities (PHAs) are involved in the regulation of seafood imports.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA)
The FSA is responsible for the public health aspects of food imported into the UK. As the Competent Authority for controls on food legislation in the UK, it has particular responsibility for policy issues for imports of fishery products and shellfish. The FSA, usually through its Imported Food Team, assists and co-ordinates LAs at ports and inland in enforcing import regulations and official controls.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
Defra is the designated Central Competent Authority for the administration of the Veterinary Checks regime for POAO and live animal imports into the UK. Responsibility for policy on EU rules for imports of animal products is shared between Defra and the FSA (and FSS in Scotland): Defra has responsibility for the animal health aspects, and the FSA responsibility for the food safety aspects, including those relating to residues of veterinary medicines or banned substances.
Live fish imports are controlled by Defra and its Fish Health Inspectorate (FHI) in England and Wales, by Marine Scotland’s equivalent inspectorate in Scotland and by the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) in Northern Ireland.
The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA)
APHA is an agency supported by Defra and is responsible for facilitating trade in animals and animal products at the border. APHA works with the FSA to monitor the correct application of official controls at the border.
APHA administers legitimate imports under the CITES Protocol that controls trade in endangered species. Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) officers control illegal imports of endangered species.
Marine Management Organisation (MMO)
The MMO is a non-departmental public body sponsored by Defra. They monitor the fishing fleet and its compliance with fisheries legislation, and are the authority responsible for the prevention of illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing. The MMO coordinates the enforcement of IUU-related verifications at the border carried out by port health authorities (PHAs).
Local Authorities (LAs) and Port Health Authorities (PHAs)
LAs and Port Health Authorities (PHAs) are responsible for food and feed safety and standards at ports of entry. Appropriately authorised LA officers have extensive powers and can enter any building (except private homes) and open and inspect any package, including personal luggage, if non-compliance with legislation is suspected. In the UK, PHAs are tasked with checking catch certificates at the border for relevant fishery product consignments arriving by road, rail or air, as well as containerised consignments arriving by sea, as required by legislation dealing with illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
Customs officers are responsible for identifying prohibited and restricted goods. They receive notification of all goods imported from third countries. Customs will assist the LA by e.g. not releasing a consignment of seafood until the OFI has completed the statutory veterinary checks.
Department for International Trade (DIT)
The Department for International Trade (DIT) has the overall responsibility for international trade policies, including compliance with WTO and other international obligations.
Many of the import controls are devolved, so that the equivalent agencies in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland implement the controls in their respective areas. They are presented in the table below.
Food Standards Scotland
Management of fish and shellfish diseases
Fish Health Inspectorate
Fish Health Inspectorate
Marine Scotland Fish Health Inspectorate
Coordination of anti-IUU activities
Veterinary checks and catch certificate checks at Ports
Who does what in Europe?
The UK is no longer part of the EU and is in a period of transition. During the transition period, the UK continues to apply the existing EU food laws and also any new EU rules that come into force between now and the end of the transition period
The Health and Consumer Protection Directorate General of the EU, usually known as DG Sante, is tasked with keeping public health, food safety and consumer affairs legislation up to date. It ensures that food safety and animal health legislation is applied properly in member states (through DG Sante's Directorate F, see below) and provides the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF).
The purpose of RASFF is to provide national food safety authorities with a tool for exchanging food and feed safety information. So if, for example, food contamination is detected in Italy, the rapid alert system quickly supplies the UK with the details of the contaminated food. If the food is in circulation in the UK, the UK authorities can then take measures to recall the food, increase checks at borders and alert the public.
The latest RASFF information, with links to archived RASFF alerts, can be accessed here.
Directorate F is a department of DG Sante. It was previously known as the Food and Veterinary Office (FVO). Its main task is to ensure that EU legislation that concerns food safety and animal health is properly implemented and enforced. This role includes ensuring compliance with EU food safety and quality standards in countries that export to the EU. As competent authorities in the UK, the FSA and Defra are subject to regular checks by the Directorate. The team also regularly audits and inspects BCPs for compliance with EU legislation.
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)
EFSA provides the European Commission with independent scientific advice on all matters with a direct or indirect impact on food safety.
These are countries that are not EU member states. Iceland, The Faroe Islands, Lichtenstein, Norway, Switzerland, Andorra and San Marino enjoy a similar status to EU member states in most activities involving imports and are therefore not considered third countries from a veterinary point of view.
Third countries that can export seafood to the EU
Seafood intended for import into the UK or the EU has to originate in a country that is authorised to do so by the European Commission. These countries are listed in Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/626. The establishment in that country exporting the seafood also has to be on the EU-approved Third Country Establishment list. The lists are available on the EU website here.
Imports from certain countries on the approved lists may be affected by temporary emergency measures or additional requirements. You are advised to check DG Sante's Special Import Conditions page and the latest information from the FSA.
Can I import from my supplier outside the EU?
Yes, if the following requirements are satisfied:
- The non-EU country you are importing from appears on the appropriate EU list and is authorised for the particular commodity you want to import, or the non-EU country you are importing from is an EFTA country (Iceland, Norway or Switzerland);
- The seafood you want to import complies with all the relevant EU legislation as regards hygiene, contaminants, packaging etc.;
- The establishment (i.e. the processor, freezer vessel, factory vessel or cold store) is on the approved establishment list of that country;
- If the product is of aquaculture origin, the establishment is approved to handle product of aquaculture origin. See the Annex in Decision 2011/163/EU and any subsequent amendments, and check the footnotes in the approved establishment lists;
- No specific exemptions or restrictions are in force.
In addition, you need to import the seafood through a Border Control Point (BCP) that handles the particular category of seafood you intend to import. You will have to:
- Notify the BCP in advance of arrival of your consignments;
- Submit the relevant documentation to the BCP, including an original health certificate. The type of certification required is dependent on the product type and country of origin;
- Present the consignment to the BCP for veterinary checks; and
- Pay the inspection charges.
Establishments that are not on the approved list
Businesses in third countries wishing to be added to the EU’s lists of approved establishments can do so by approaching their competent authority i.e. the government agency in their country that deals with food safety. The procedures the European Commission uses to amend lists of establishments are laid out on the Commission website here.
Products covered by veterinary checks
Veterinary checks are a series of documentary, identity and physical checks carried out on imported consignments of seafood. 'Consignment' is defined in Regulation 2017/625 as 'a number of animals or quantity of goods covered by the same official certificate, official attestation or any other document, conveyed by the same means of transport and coming from the same territory or third country, and […] being of the same type, class or description.
Products required to undergo official controls at a BCP are listed in Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/2007, and include all fish and shellfish, and their products. They include:
- Live fish, shellfish and other marine invertebrates;
- All fish, crustaceans, bivalve molluscs and their products;
- Other invertebrates such as cephalopods, marine snails, sea urchins and jellyfish.
Composite products are foods containing both processed products of animal origin and products of plant origin, such as seafood pizza and anchovy-stuffed olives. Article 4 of Decision 2007/275/EC specifies that composite products containing 50% or more of processed fish material will be subject to checks. Article 6 lists the exceptions whereby certain products containing less than 50% of fish material are not subject to tests. There is advice from the FSA here and from Food Standards Scotland here. Irrespective of the proportion it contributes to the whole foodstuff, any seafood or other animal product contained in a food must originate from an approved establishment as explained under “Can I import from my supplier outside the EU?”
Before the Border Control Post: What needs to be in place before the consignment arrives at the Border Control Post?
Some but not all BCPs will be able to accept your category of product and carry out official controls on your consignment. You must check in advance that the BCP through which you intend to import your consignment is approved to receive the particular category of product involved otherwise it may be seized and destroyed. You can look at lists of BCPs on the GOV.UK website here, or you can contact the port health authority (PHA) operating the BCP at the intended destination to check if it is designated for your product category.
An original health certificate appropriate for the product and issued by the competent authority in the third country must accompany the consignment. Most of the templates for the certificates are given in Regulation 2019/628, and the certificate template that has to be used for composite products is given in Regulation 28/2012 as amended.
Sufficient information must accompany the consignment to allow full traceability through all stages of production, processing and distribution. For products covered by the Fish Labelling Regulations, this would include as a minimum:
- The commercial designation of the fish species;
- The production method;
- The catch area
- The scientific name of the fish species (optional at retail sale to final consumer but must be included in traceability information at each stage of marketing); and
- The identification mark (as in Section I, Annex II of Regulation 853/2004). The country of origin and the establishment's identification mark must be printed on each 'retail-ready' pack, whereas items that are not shelf ready require the mark and country to be displayed only on their external container.
Further information on labelling is available on the Traceability and Labelling page of this website.
The consignment has to pass through a BCP authorised to accept your seafood product. Items that have been introduced in the UK without being presented at an appropriate BCP may be seized by the appropriate authority under Regulation 19 of the TARP Regulations 2011 as amended. All UK BCPs are listed on the GOV.UK website here.
The BCP has to be notified in advance of the arrival of a consignment using the online TRACES system (TRACES Classic will shortly be replaced by TRACES NT). The notification period is usually at least one working day before the consignment is due to arrive, but check with the relevant PHA for further information. Notification is covered by Regulation 14 of the TARP Regulations 2011 as amended.
If using TRACES Classic, Part 1 of the Common Veterinary Entry Certificate (CVED) must be filled out and submitted online. The CVED is described in Commission Regulation 136/2004. If using TRACES NT, Part 1 of the Common Health Entry Document (CHED) must be filled and submitted. The CHED is specified in Commission Implementing Regulation 2019/1715.
A validated catch certificate as required by the IUU Regulation (Regulation 1005/2008) will have to be presented at the BCP for relevant fish and fishery product consignments. There is more information on catch certificates here.
Before the Border Control Post: What is TRACES and how do I access it?
TRACES (Trade Control and Expert System) is the EU-wide online system used for digital certification and to notify veterinary authorities of certain consignments of animals and animal products. Importers or their agents should use it to generate the CVED/CHED and pre-notify the receiving BCP by filling in and submitting Page 1 of the CVED/CHED.
At the Border Control Post: What happens at the BCP?
The person responsible for the consignment to be imported must ensure that the goods are presented to an appropriate BCP for inspection. Port health officers will then conduct a documentary, identity and physical checks on the consignment. The checks are described in more detail below.
At the Border Control Post: Documentary check
All consignments will be subjected to a documentary check. This is to ensure that the documents that relate to public or animal health meet the requirements of import for the product concerned. You can expect port health officers (or official fish inspectors) to check the CVED/CHED, health certificates and animal health certificates, accompanying commercial documents such as the bill of lading, invoice and packing list, and any analytical reports from the country of origin. The inspector will check countries of origin and approved establishments against the relevant lists, available via this page on the European Commission’s website.
At the Border Control Post: Identity check
All consignments of seafood will be subjected to an identity check. This is a visual inspection to ensure that the product labels, marks and means of transport tally with the documentation. New Zealand has an equivalence agreement with the EU allowing its products to be exempt from identity checks.
The port health officer will also check that:
- seals are intact; and
- stamps and identification marks ('health marks') are present.
The container (other than those exempt) will need to be opened to ensure that the product can be seen.
Manifests, bills of lading, waybills, packing lists and other documents accompanying the consignment may be checked as part of the identity check. Where required, businesses are obliged to grant official inspectors access to premises, equipment, goods, computers and documents for them to carry out their controls.
At the Border Control Post: Physical check
The physical check is a check of the product itself and may include sensory testing and laboratory testing. Only a proportion of packages will be physically checked. Frequencies of physical checks are listed in Annex I of Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/2129 and for seafood are:
- 30% of consignments of fishery products from aquaculture for human consumption, which are not in hermetically sealed containers intended to render them stable at ambient temperature;
- 30% of consignments of bivalve molluscs for human consumption, which are not in hermetically sealed containers intended to render them stable at ambient temperature; and
- 15% of consignments of fishery products other than those mentioned above.
Countries that have an equivalence agreement with the EU (currently New Zealand, Canada and Chile) are subject to a reduced level of physical checks.
There may be occasions where, for a limited period, a higher level of check will be necessary on certain products from certain non-EU countries.
The checks are carried out according to the criteria in Article 52 of the Official Controls Regulation and Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/627 and relate to:
- organoleptic examinations;
- freshness indicators;
- residues and contaminants;
- microbiological checks;
- parasites; and
- poisonous fishery products.
If there is a history of non-compliance or if there is an immediate danger to public health, the consignment will be held until laboratory test results are available. Once the physical check has been completed, the port health official will reseal and stamp all opened packages.
At the Border Control Post: intensified checks
Where a check on a consignment reveals a 'serious or repeated infringement' or suspected fraudulent or deceptive practices, this can trigger intensified checks on future consignments of the same type. The intensified checks are coordinated throughout the EU’s BCP network. BCP staff will carry out the identity and physical checks on each subsequent consignment coming from the same establishment of origin and containing the same category of goods. The physical checks will be for the same type of infringement. Intensified checks will continue until at least 10 consecutive consignments yield satisfactory results and when the total weight of the consignments tested reaches at least 10 times the weight of the original infringing consignment or a net weight of 300 tons, whichever is lower. The Regulation that deals with intensified checks is Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 2019/1873.
At the Border Control Post: Requirements for packaging
The packaging has to maintain its integrity throughout the consignment’s journey. Consignments with broken packaging may be interpreted by enforcement officers as having been tampered with. The physical check carried out at the BCP may include a check on packaging integrity and also checks relating to regulations on materials and articles in contact with food.
Annex II Section I of Regulation 853/2004 lays out the details on identification marking (sometimes referred to as health marking). Guidance on identification marking (prepared in 2008) is available here.
UK legislation on food contact materials is based on Regulation (EC) 1935/2004 and is implemented in the UK by the Materials and Articles in Contact with Food Regulations 2012. Further information is available from the FSA here.
At the Border Inspection Post: What do I have to pay?
Each Port Health Authority sets its inspection charges on a cost recovery basis. There is a statutory minimum charging rate based on the gross weight of every consignment to cover routine inspection and overheads. You will be liable for additional expenses relating to intensified checks and checks that are a result of an emergency measure (such as extra checks required on aquaculture products imported from India). If your consignment fails the veterinary check, you will be liable to pay storage charges and costs pertaining to disposal or re-export. The statutory minimum charging rates are stipulated in Annex IV of EC Regulation 2017/625 on Official Controls.
Fresh fishery products landed directly from third country vessels are dealt with differently. They are discussed below.
Fresh fish landings from third country-flagged vessels
Fresh fishery products directly landed from a fishing vessel flying a third country flag are exempt from official controls at a BCP provided that the controls take place at the EU port of landing. Frozen fish landed by a fishing vessel flying a third country flag will need to be imported through a BCP. There are other rules relating to direct and indirect landings of fish in Commission Delegated Regulation 2019/2126.
The costs are laid out in The Fishery Products (Official Controls Charges) (England) Regulations 2007 as amended (and similar legislation for Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland).
Detentions and rejections
The BCP officials have powers to detain any consignment that they suspect is non-compliant pending the outcome of checks. If any of the border checks indicate that the consignment is not in compliance with food safety, animal health and other requirements, the consignment will be detained. If the goods present a risk to human health, the operator responsible for the consignment will be ordered to re-dispatch or destroy the consignment, or subject the consignment to a special treatment that eliminates the risk. The operator has the right to seek a second opinion at the operator’s expense and/or appeal the decision of the BCP officials.
Detailed rules on the procedures that follow the suspicion or detection of non-compliance are given in Section III of Regulation 2017/625.
At the Border Inspection Post: Transshipment and transit
Products of animal origin transiting through the UK or the EU must be introduced via a BCP and will be subject to official controls.
- Documentary checks will take place on the consignment to be transshipped if the transshipment period exceeds 90 days. If the seafood to be transshipped needs to comply with animal health or animal by-product requirements, documentary checks will take place if the transshipment period exceeds 3 days if at an airport or 30 days if at a sea port. If there is a suspicion of non-compliance, identity and physical checks will also be carried out. If the consignment to be transshipped fails these tests, it must be destroyed or removed from the UK or the EU without delay.
- Transshipped consignments must remain in a customs area, a free zone area or in facilities under the control of the BCP.
- Following transshipment, the consignment will undergo official checks when it reaches the BCP from which it will be allowed into the UK or the EU. Checks will not be necessary if they were carried out at another BCP.
- Consignments of seafood that are in transit from one third country to another via the EU or the UK will be subject to documentary and identity checks.
- Consignments of seafood that have left the EU or the UK and transited through another country will be subject to documentary and identity checks before re-introduction into the UK or the EU.
- Seafood in transit through the UK or the EU may be stored in approved warehouses. Chapter IV, Section 2 of Regulation 2019/2124 lists the conditions for the storage of seafood in transit.
- Transit goods may leave the UK or the EU only via a BCP, where an identity check will be carried out to ensure that the consignment is the one referred to in the CHED/CVED or in the
- Seafood that transits through a third country on its way from the UK or the EU to a destination in the UK or the EU needs to do so under customs supervision. Such consignments would have to be presented at a BCP on re-introduction into the UK or the EU.
Most of the rules and procedures relating to transhipment and transit are laid out in Commission Implementing Regulation 2019/2124.
Trade samples and samples intended for research and diagnosis
Trade samples, research and diagnostic samples, and display items are covered by animal by-products legislation. Such samples and items can be imported from third countries if the appropriate procedures are followed. These procedures are set out in the following Importer Information Notes, issued by the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA):
Travellers are allowed to bring into the UK, for their personal consumption, up to 20 kg of fishery products or the weight of one fish if this is higher. Permitted fishery products include fish (gutted or processed) and certain shellfish such as prawns, lobsters, and mussels (but live mussels or oysters have a lower weight restriction). Live bivalve molluscs (oysters, mussels etc.) may be imported up to a weight of 2kg. There are no such weight restrictions on personal imports brought in from Andorra, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, San Marino, and Switzerland.
There is more information on the GOV.UK’s Personal food and animal product imports page.
Seafood imported from third countries will need to satisfy the requirements set out by HMRC. This means that Customs documents need to be completed, the consignment may have to be subjected to checks by Customs before it is cleared, and Customs duty may have to be paid. Customs will in all cases check that the consignment has been released by Port Health.
For further details, check the HMRC website.
You may have to pay duties on your imports according to the UK tariff schedule. The UK searchable database listing import tariffs, including reduced tariffs as a result of preferential trade regimes, is available. There is also Seafish guidance on tariffs here.
HMRC requires you to classify your goods with a 10-digit Classification Number. Seafish has produced a video explaining how to go about this. You can ask HMRC for non-legally binding advice on classifying your particular goods by using the guidance on this page. You can also obtain a legally binding Binding Tariff Information document: see GOV.UK advice here for further information.
Exports from the UK are subject to the same legislation that affects all seafood which is produced for the UK market.
Further information is available from the following sites:
- The FSA's Importing fishery products or bivalve molluscs page with information and further links.
- DG Sante has an Import Conditions page.
- The GOV.UK website has various guidance documents: Guidance on importing and exporting live animals or animal products.
- The BIP Manual contains official guidance on the interpretation of legislation concerning checks on POAO from third countries.
- The Aquatic Animal Health and Movements (AAHM) section of the GOV.UK website contains information, guidance and official documents covering the movement of live fish and shellfish within the UK and between countries.
- The Association of Port Health Authorities has a website with some import guidance. Suffolk Coastal Port Health Authority also has import guidance
- The HMRC Import, export and customs for business page links to various guidance documents.