Importing fishery products

The importation of fish, fish products, and seafood is subject to specific rules. One of these rules is that importers may only purchase these products from approved companies. Fishery products have to meet European food safety requirements. All fishery products imported from non-EU countries have to undergo mandatory inspections.

Importers of, for example, salmon, tuna, shrimp, or other fishery products have to deal with several different rules. On top of that, the procedures for importing products from EU countries differ from the procedures for non-EU countries. 

Approved companies and countries 

If you import fishery products from an EU country, your supplier must be an approved company and comply with European hygiene regulations. Only companies approved by local authorities may produce, prepare, store, trade, or transport foodstuffs - including fishery products - in the EU. Importers must also be approved for these activities by the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA, in Dutch). On the website of the European Commission you can find a list of approved companies in every EU country.

You are only allowed to import fishery products from non-EU countries if the country in question has been approved by the EU. Competent authorities in these countries check that vessels and businesses in their countries meet EU food safety requirements, verifying that their facilities comply with European hygiene regulations and that fishery products can be traced back to their source (for example, the fishing vessel that caught the fish). 

The European Commission has published a list of approved factory vessels, cold stores, and processing plants in approved countries outside the EU. In the 'Section' field under Foodstuffs (Third Countries), select 'Live bivalve molluscs (LBM)' for live bivalve molluscs and 'Fishery Products (FFP)' for fishery products. Check to see if your supplier is on the list. 

Endangered fish species 

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) regulates the global trade in protected animal species(including fish species) and plant species. Some fish species may not be traded or imported in EU and non-EU countries, while other species can only be traded or imported by licenced or certified businesses. CITES applies to live and dead animals (including fish) or plants and products thereof. 

Product requirements 

The European food legislation provides frameworks for food safety for consumers. Traceability throughout the supply chain is an important part of this legislation: importers must have a good traceability system in place to quickly remove food from the market. The same goes for fishery products that are found to be unfit for consumption: you have to know where the tea or coffee came from and to whom you supplied it. If your products are found to be unsafe, you have a duty to inform (in Dutch) the NVWA. The NVWA investigates reports of unsafe food and beverages. 

Food & beverage hygiene 

If you produce, process, transport, and/or store fishery products, you need a food safety plan under European food hygiene law. Businesses must handle food safely and follow HACCP principles. HACCP is short for Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points and the HACCP system maps out everything that can go wrong with food & beverages and how you can prevent this. 

Food contamination 

Fishery products may contain chemicals and microorganisms that are harmful to consumers' health. These substances are called contaminants (n Dutch). The maximum acceptable levels for contaminants in food and beverages are set out in a European Regulation

Labelling 

The marketing of prepackaged food intended for final consumers is subject to legal labelling requirements such as a list of ingredients and a best-before date. 

Additional labelling requirements apply to pre-packed and non-pre-packed fishery and aquaculture products. One of these requirements is that the label must specify the correct commercial designation (in Dutch) of the fish. In Access2Markets you will find information on the labeling of fishery products

National legislation 

European legislation has been transposed into additional Dutch legislation. The following acts, decrees, and regulations also apply to fishery products: 

Product liability 

In the following situations, you bear product liability for injuries and damages caused by a defect in the product: 

  • You import fishery products from a country outside the European Economic Area (EEA). 

  • You import fishery products from an EEA country, but you attach your own label or brand name to them. 

It is therefore very important that your fishery products meet the applicable rules and requirements. 

More about product requirements 

The following agencies provide information on product requirements on their websites: 

  • Centre for the Promotion of Imports from Developing Countries (CBI) helps exporters from developing countries export goods to the European market and publishes market information that can also be useful for Dutch importers. CBI has also published product requirements for fishery products
  • Access2Markets is a website run by the European Commission. It contains product requirements, import duties and import procedures for fishery products. The video below explains how to use this system. You need the product name or HS code of your product. The HS code is a commodity code used by customs to classify products. Do you want to import fresh, chilled or frozen fish, crustaceans, mollusks or other aquatic invertebrates? If so, enter 03 in the 'Product name or HS code' field. The HS codes for 'prepared and preserved fish' start with 16, for 'waste fish' with 05 and for 'fish fats and oils' with 15.

Video: Want to know the rules when importing? Use Access2Markets

Choose English subtitles using the settings wheel.

Importing goods from EU countries 

There is free movement of goods within the EU. So, you do not have to pay import duties when you import fishery products from another member state. You also do not have to submit an import declaration to Dutch Customs. Your supplier will usually charge 0% VAT if you pass on your VAT identification number. You calculate 9% Dutch VAT on the purchase and report it in your VAT return. Then you can usually deduct this VAT as input tax in that same return.

Import step-by-step guide

If you want to import, you will make arrangements with your foreign supplier about such things as transportation and payment. You can start importing successfully if you have sufficient knowledge of the import process. The Import step-by-step plan will help you do just that. From market research to concluding a contract.

Importing goods from non-EU countries 

When you import fishery products from a non-EU country, you have to file an import declaration with Dutch Customs. Your carrier or customs broker will usually file this import declaration on your behalf for a fee. You will also need an EORI number, a mandatory identification number for anyone dealing with Customs. 

Import duties 

If you import products from a non-EU country, you will usually have to pay import duties. Sometimes you pay less or no import duty. This is called tariff preference. This applies when you import certain fishery products from countries with which the EU has a trade agreement

The fishery products must then be of preferential origin from the treaty country. This means that the fish originates entirely from the treaty country. Or that the fish comes from another country but has been sufficiently processed in the treaty country. You demonstrate the preferential origin with a preferential certificate or declaration of origin, such as a EUR.1 certificate, invoice declaration, or Certificate of Origin. Which certificate or declaration of origin you need depends on the treaty country. 

Fishery products caught in the coastal waters of a non-EU country by vessels registered in the EU are also exempt from import duties. 

Non-preferential tariff quota

For some fishery products, there is a non-preferential tariff quota. This means that the EU sets a maximum import quantity for a certain period. Within this quantity, you can import these fishery products with a lower import duty. You only get this reduction for fishery products destined for the processing industry. You need an end-use authorisation (vergunning bijzondere bestemming, in Dutch) if you want to use the tariff quota. Has the maximum quantity within the tariff quota been reached, or do you not have a permit? Then you pay the normal rate of import duty. What fishery products are involved and what other conditions apply can be read in EU Regulation 2023/2720.

Commodity codes for fishery products 

In addition to Access2Markets, import duty rates are also listed in the Tariff Manual of Dutch Customs. In the Tariff Manual, click on the 'nomenclature' tab, followed by ‘browse by nomenclature'. 

To find the import duty rate for your fishery product, you first need a 10-digit commodity code (HS code, also called a TARIC code). Most fishery products have 10-digit commodity codes beginning with: 

  • 03 (click on the folder for code I, followed by the folder for chapter 3). This code covers fish, crustaceans, molluscs, and other aquatic invertebrates. 

  • 16 (click on the folder for code IV, followed by the folder for chapter 16, and one of the following subheadings):

    • 1603: Extracts and juices of meat, fish, crustaceans, molluscs, or other aquatic invertebrates.

    • 1604: Prepared and preserved fish; caviar and caviar substitutes prepared from roe

    • 1605: Preparations and preserves of crustaceans, molluscs, or other aquatic invertebrates. 

  • 05 (click on the folder for code I, followed by the folder for chapter 5). This code covers fish waste and more. 

  • 15 (click on the folder for code III, followed by the folder for chapter 15). This code covers fish fats and oils and more. 

You will find a detailed description of the products belonging to the various codes in the Tariff Manual: 

Import duties are based on the customs value of a particular product: the purchase price plus shipping and any insurance costs up to the border (or port) of entry into the EU. 

If you are looking for the commodity code and import duty rate for your fishery product but cannot figure it out, call the Customs Information Line (0800 01 43). 

VAT on goods imported from non-EU countries 

When you import fishery products into the Netherlands, you pay 9% Dutch import VAT. You may deduct this VAT in your VAT return as input tax if you are entitled to a VAT deduction. Do you regularly import from countries outside the EU?  You can apply for an article 23 permit from the Dutch Tax Administration to avoid having to pay VAT at the time of import. Instead, you can file the VAT with your VAT return. 

Inspection of fishery products 

You are only allowed to import fishery products from non-EU countries via an approved Border Control Post (BCP). This is where veterinary border checks take place. With these checks, the EU stops fishery products that are harmful to public health. This prevents the spread of fish diseases. You have to register your shipment by submitting a Common Health Entry Document, CHED (Gemeenschappelijk Gezondheidsdocument van Binnenkomst, GGB).

In the Netherlands, veterinary controls are performed by the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) and Dutch Customs (in Dutch). These controls consist of checking (in Dutch) all documents present and, optionally, a physical product inspection. Please note that NVWA charges a fee (in Dutch) for its services. Veterinary border controls are not required (in Dutch) if you import fish from Iceland, Norway, Greenland, or the Faroe Islands. 

Import documents 

When you import goods, you need import documents such as your supplier's invoice and a transportation document. Imports of most fishery products from non-EU countries have to be accompanied by additional documents such as health certificates and catch certificates. 

Health certificates 

Inspection bodies in approved non-EU countries issue these certificates for export shipments of fishery products to the EU. With these certificates they declare that the products are healthy and free of harmful organisms. The foreign exporter - your supplier - should apply for the health certificate from a local inspection authority. 

Catch certificates 

You need a catch certificate to import most fishery products from approved non-EU countries. This certificate demonstrates that the fishery products did not come from illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU fishing). Catch certificates are issued by the country where the vessel involved in the catch is registered (Flag State). Fishery products are accompanied by catch certificates throughout the supply chain to allow for ongoing controls. Ask your foreign supplier for the catch certificate. 

Look up the commodity code for your product in the Tariff Manual and check whether you need a catch certificate for your fishery product. You do not need a catch certificate for ornamental fish, freshwater fish, aquaculture products obtained from fry or larvae, and some molluscs. 

Clearance companies for fishery products 

Some customs brokers and forwarders specialise in clearing fishery products and the veterinary inspection process. To find an expert, try Googling ‘freight forwarder fishery products’. Or in Dutch 'douane expediteur visproducten'.