Fishing News continues to be approached by readers who have received Notices of Intent to Prosecute from lawyers working on behalf of the MCA, with respect to alleged failure to wear PFDs or take alternative appropriate safety measures when on deck at sea. One owner, who has sent through the full exchange of paperwork between the law firm and the vessel, including the photographs provided, told FN: “The first that anyone involved with the vessel knew about this was a legal letter arriving. No attempt was made to contact the boat at sea, or to ask the crewman concerned if he was wearing his PFD.
“The notice had mistakes all over it. The first correspondence had the wrong vessel details on it. When we queried this, they corrected the vessel details, only to put the wrong owners! The initial photograph supplied was very poor quality, to the extent that we couldn’t make anything out, and only when we further queried what they had sent us did we get something recognisable.
“The entire thing could have been handled so much better, and in a constructive way. This has done nothing but create more worry and stress.
“I also wonder about the legality of an agency seeing something that was supposedly risking life and limb, but not intervening. The equivalent on land would be a police car seeing dangerous driving, but doing nothing about it other than to send the registered owner of the car a letter about it a few days later. If an activity is genuinely putting life in danger, surely an immediate response is required?”
Sarah Ready of NUTFA said: “We’re aware of a first round of 47 Notices of Intent to Prosecute issued to vessel owners based on photographs taken from MCA spotter planes, all of which ultimately, as far as we’re aware, were withdrawn.
“In many cases these have been picked up by an owner on Friday night or Saturday morning, when he is just in from sea, and hoping to finally relax. We’ve multiple instances of the notices being sent to a wrong email or similar. Withdrawal is all very well, but in many cases damage to crew welfare has been done, with significant worries between receiving the original notice and the ultimate withdrawal of the threat of prosecution.”
Jerry Percy of NUTFA added: “Inshore fishing and fishermen are under pressure like never before, and their stress levels have not been helped in recent times by the MCA’s apparent over-zealous approach to surveying small boats, together with the clumsy implementation of medical requirements.
“To add insult to injury, NUTFA is now representing a skipper who had the audacity to take his 14-year-old son to sea with him during the school holidays, and has had a prohibition notice slapped on his boat because of it.
“So between the desire by Defra to introduce REM in the near future, overflights by manned and unmanned aircraft, and now MCA snooping around harbours looking for imaginary infringements, one does have to wonder just what or who is driving this apparent aim of destroying the inshore fleet through death by a thousand cuts?
“Whatever the reasons and whoever might be driving it, they are doing a great job.”
The fall-out continues from the Prohibition Notice issued in respect of the 14-year-old alleged to have been seen ‘working’ on the Seahouses-based lobster potter JJ. FN understands that the harbour master involved in the issue, who was not an MCA employee, but was responsible for printing and handing over the Prohibition Notice, has now left his post, after a meeting of the Harbour Trustees.
A Freedom of Information request made by Sarah Ready confirmed that the Prohibition Notice issued by the MCA is the only one of its kind. “The records only go back to 2020,” she told FN, “but it is unlikely any were issued before then, and this is the only one we have heard about, in spite of hearing from multiple families who have taken children to sea.
“We also confirmed that the MCA didn’t ask for or see any risk assessment before issuing the Prohibition Notice in Seahouses. In our discussions with them, they have claimed that this isn’t deemed necessary, and that they can issue a notice based solely on a visual report made by an MCA staff member.”
Jonathan Dawson, owner of JJ, who received the original Prohibition Notice, sent in a formal appeal against the notice.
Speaking to FN last week, he said: “We have now heard back from the MCA finally, and the lad is back at sea for another couple of trips, though of course he isn’t working! We’d started a move to go to arbitration, having already appealed the notice.
“We were told that they had carried out an internal enquiry about the whole fiasco, but their reply totally failed to address the issues I raised about how the Prohibition Notice was issued, their failure to ask me for the risk assessment, and the like. They simply restated that the lad ‘had been seen working’, with no real explanation.
“But the summer holiday’s nearly over, he’s got some more time at sea with his dad, and so we are where we are now. Let’s just hope no other teenager has to suffer the same way.”
This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.50 here.
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