The MMO has rejected calls for boats within the under-10m fleet to be exempted from the requirement for all English under-12m boats to install inshore vessel monitoring systems (IVMS), reports Tim Oliver.

NUTFA has been in discussions with the MMO since well before Christmas to try to agree a derogation from the regulations for small boats, but last week it told NUTFA there would be no exemptions.

In an email to NUTFA directors Jerry Percy and Sarah Ready, the MMO said: “The project team has kept this [derogations] under active consideration, but the MMO is not pursuing any derogations to the roll-out of IVMS for under-12m vessels at this time. I acknowledge the points regarding [enforcement] risk and the distinctions you make regarding smaller vessels.

“However, a fundamental aim of this work is to be able to understand where all commercial fishing is undertaken in England’s seas, to enable more informed and agile management and representation of this sector.

“We will continue to provide support during this roll-out period and will explore any individual issues and solutions with fishers.”

Jerry Percy pointed out that ‘a very significant proportion’ of the under-10m fleet are under eight, seven or six metres.

“It’s a re-run of the Catch App,” he told Fishing News. “They couldn’t introduce that properly – they ignored all the pleas on that, and now we’ve got IVMS.

“You would have thought there would have been some sort of cut-off point for very small boats, some as small as 5m. The conversation led us to believe they were considering it, but now they’ve just said no.

“They say they want to have a handle on where everyone is fishing, but if you’ve got a 5m boat, it’s not going to be out of sight of land! Small boats just don’t need to have this sort of stuff – the MMO and IFCAs have shore staff who can see where the boats are.

“The equipment will be vulnerable to theft or just damage from vandalism, especially if it’s kept on a beach, for example. And then you can’t go to sea unless you buy another one, and they cost hundreds of pounds plus the maintenance.

“You can’t take it ashore because it can’t be removed from the boat, because they say you could take it home and then say you hadn’t been fishing.”

Jerry Percy said it was also very difficult for fishermen to tell whether the kit was working. “You’ve got to go onto your own app and see if there’s a signal, and you don’t want to be doing that at sea.”

He said there were also issues over the date of introduction of IVMS grants and procurement.

“The MMO are saying: ‘You’ve got to buy this, but we’re only giving you a grant for a short period, so you’ve got to do it now,’ but they haven’t given a definite starting date, just ‘before the end of the year’. It appears then that it hasn’t got parliamentary approval, but they’re forcing you to buy it quickly because the grant window is not that long.

“They’re providing no guarantees on the equipment, but if it doesn’t work you can’t go to sea. And in the case of one warranty offer I’ve seen, it may take up to 28 days to repair or replace a defective unit. So what happens in the meantime if you are effectively prohibited from making a living through no fault of your own?”

Jerry Percy said he and Sarah Ready attended a meeting with the Cabinet Office last week to discuss concerns over the procurement process and demand that all aspects of purchase, warranties and supplier support have been subject to official scrutiny, rather than leaving fishermen to make detailed enquiries themselves.

“They’ve named four suppliers, but they don’t appear to have done proper due diligence checks on them and their equipment and warranties. It is a cop-out when they are forcing fishermen to buy kit from only named suppliers, but have not ensured that the choices on offer are reliable, that the companies concerned are not going to go out of business tomorrow, and that their warranties are worth the paper they are written on.

“We are of course not suggesting that the kit on offer is no good, but in any other government procurement process, other than this one, that shuffles off responsibility on to the fishermen, standard checks of this nature would have been carried out.”

Following the Cabinet Office meeting, Jerry Percy said it did not appear that Defra has instituted a procurement process, and is therefore not liable for any aspect of the purchase and subsequent reliability of equipment in this respect. He said talks are ongoing between NUTFA and the government.

He added: “People are leaving the industry. You’ve got the Catch App, the under-15m safety code and IVMS – people can’t put up with all this bureaucracy on top of trying to earn a living. The number of inshore boats that are being sold is scary.

“You’ve got fly-shooters, big trawlers, beam trawlers working up to the six-mile limit, supertrawlers on the 12-mile limit, and now we hear Dutch beam trawlers are moving over to twin- rigging. They are only supposed to be granted access to our waters if they swap like for like, for what they had in the reference period – but I bet they will just carry on regardless, and the changes will be ignored by our government.

“If we don’t do something to restrict large-scale effort inside the 12, very soon there’ll be nothing left for anybody.”

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 £3.30 here


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