HE has made his living from the sea for decades, sending Scotland’s prized shellfish to eager customers in European markets.

Today business owner Santi Buesa must decide whether to tell the boats he relies on to stop fishing as Brexit red tape cripples exports.

Scotland’s multi-billion pound food and drink sector is this week reeling from unprecedented disruption at the UK borders. Dozens of lorryloads of fish have failed to leave Scotland on time since the full Brexit regulations came into force on January 1. Hauliers say errors in new paperwork and IT issues have caused the freight backlog to overwhelm their operations.

On Thursday DFDS Scotland, the largest logistics provider to the fishing industry, told customers it wouldn’t move until Monday and on Friday it told the Sunday National that “despite four years of preparations, none of us – authorities, customers or logistic companies – could really foresee the full reality” of withdrawal from the Single Market.

“Some of the issues are being resolved,” a spokesperson said, but added “at the moment we can’t say when we expect to be fully back to normality.”

Scotland Food and Drink (SF&D) chief executive James Withers called the chaos a “multi-million pound blow to our food industry” and “an entirely predictable mess”.

In November the leaders of all of Scotland’s main food and drink bodies – including SF&D, the Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation and Seafood Scotland – wrote to Boris Johnson in November appealing for a gradual implementation period for the new rules, but without success. The UK Government is now waiving many of the border checks which should be in place for imports to the UK and the bodies say ministers should “work with their French counterparts to get a similar approach adopted for exports to the EU”.

Buesa’s South Ayrshire company SB Fish is just one of those caught in the Brexit net.

The 48-year-old’s family moved to Scotland from Spain in the early 80s – after the UK’s accession to the European Union, but before Spain’s – when his father took a job helping to modernise one of this country’s big fish operations.

The continental contacts have helped SB Fish, founded almost

30 years ago, forge lasting relationships with customers in Spain and France, as well as Belgium, Italy and Germany. Buesa is now dealing with the sons of the people his father sold to.

Half of the company’s business – mostly langoustines – goes to Europe, while the other half – mainly scampi – stays in the domestic market.

Buesa, who also operates The Pier Fishmonger in Troon, buys from about 20 boats supporting as many as 70 families.

But this week he could not get the catch to the key Spanish or French markets in time. Without a buyer, that prime Scottish produce, just a fraction of the total goods packed hopefully onto trucks this week, is now set to be dumped.

There are three tonnes of prawns in Buesa’s cold storage and, if he continues to buy while being unable to sell, he says this could reach up to 70 tonnes this week.

But the prospect of telling these self-employed crews to stay at home weighs heavily on him.

“It’s intense,” the father tells the Sunday National. “We get £80,000 worth of goods every week. That’s a huge amount for us to leave in a cold store.”

The price of Scotland’s prized langoustines had fallen by 40% by Friday.

Buesa says his colleagues in the sector are “all the same”, faced with unwelcome losses at a time when the continued shutdown of UK hospitality leaves them little room to seek alternative sales. Not that this would be a straight fix anyway – the markets are too different, we don’t cook and eat the quantity of shellfish at home as our European counterparts do.

READ MORE: Scots seafood industry lashes out at Tory Brexit 'shambles'

The export troubles, Buesa says, are “a catastrophe”. “Goods I sent on Tuesday or Wednesday, I don’t even know if they’ve crossed the border,” he goes on.

It’s not just small and medium sized enterprises that are affected – multinational Marks & Spencer has spoken out about the burden of the “very complex administrative processes” and parcel firm DPD this week suspended some of its services.

Shane Brennan, chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, a logistics trade body, says that though trade flow is at 50% of normal levels there is “confusion and delay” and things are “building to quite a significant potential disruption”.

In Troon, Buesa has done everything he can to adapt, working until 2am on forms and setting up a VAT company in France to improve his chances of continued trade in Europe because buyers there “don’t want to have the hassle of paperwork”.

It has been a “significant investment” for him and, used to years of driving growth and entering new markets, he is trying to fathom a new way forwards.

Striking deals in other territories is, based on his experience, a risky strategy.

“They say ‘sell to China, sell to South Korea’,” he states, “I have dealt with China and America, I’ve exported to those places and I know the way they work. They’ll buy a lot and pay huge money and then they’ll drop you and all of the investment in machinery and labelling is away.

“There’s a huge market right outside our door and we’ve locked ourselves out of it,” he says of Brexit, something he’d advised crews to vote against in pre-referendum discussions.

Buesa describes himself as “not political”, driven by business, but he is acutely aware of the trade trap politics has created.

And he fears the vocal Leave voices in the fishing sector have turned the tide of public sympathy away from his industry at a time when it needs all the domestic support it can get. “Fishing has now taken a negative image because of Brexit, because of the east coast, big money guys putting money in and putting these [Leave] views forwards,” Buesa says. “People are blaming the fishermen. Money has talked – they’re the biggest boats in Scotland and might have one Scottish skipper and 10 or 12 foreign crew. We don’t have that here, we can’t employ anybody international because we are inside the 12 mile limit.

“Right from the beginning, I was against Brexit. It’s business.

“We need to fight now. We need to fight and find other buyers to take more. But we’ve lost a lot of customers due to Covid, so Brexit and Covid together has been a double hit for our industry.

“I couldn’t get my goods to customers in Spain. People might think, ‘that’s his problem’, but the Spanish market has always been very important for this industry.

“It’s like sitting on a chair – when you take one leg away, you can’t stay up.

“We’ve been in business for so long, we’re not ready to raise the white flag,” he goes on, despite fears for his sector and the families who rely on it.

“It’s pride, you want to keep going forwards. But the implications are that there are going to be high costs, huge costs for the industry.”