The four UK administrations have taken different approaches to the introduction of VMS in the under-12m sector, with Defra and the Welsh government at the forefront of moves to make operation of VMS mandatory across the entire fleet during 2022.

Whilst the Welsh approach has been to approve and supply a single terminal to all eligible Welsh boats, differing only in the power options required for operation of the terminals, in England, vessel owners have a choice of four ‘type approved’ terminals.

Given the urgency that some vessel owners now face, the continued uncertainty about legal deadlines and funding has led to considerable frustrations across the industry. NUTFA has continued to express its concerns about the pace of the iVMS roll-out and, in particular, the issue of liability to small vessel owners, in the event of breakdown of terminals, or of terminals reporting inaccurate positions.

Sarah Ready, speaking on behalf of NUTFA before the latest MMO statement was issued, told Fishing News: “We have met with officials to discuss our concerns, who have listened politely and tried to be constructive, but we nevertheless risk finding ourselves in a position where inshore fishermen in England see their livelihoods put at risk due to the rushed roll-out of this requirement.

“NUTFA put in a freedom of information request, as we are extremely concerned that Defra is pushing on to the industry liability for the reliable operation of terminals, without any ongoing testing or quality control during the type approval process.

“The internal paperwork we received from Defra as a result of our requests confirms our fears that the type approval process has involved no practical testing or independent physical evaluation by Defra or the MMO, and instead relies entirely on written responses provided by the companies hoping to win approval.

“Whilst, no doubt, these responses are all provided in good faith, it will be of little comfort to fishermen, investing time and effort in installing and operating the systems, if they do indeed prove to be unreliable. It will be the fishermen who are forced to cease operating their businesses due to any shortcomings in the system, whilst awaiting a fix, and fishermen who will face legal sanction if and when things go wrong, through no fault of their own.

“The inshore fleet has already seen at first hand examples of how VMS data has been used, without any corroborating evidence, to prosecute vessels.

“With this roll-out, where assurances about reliability of positional data is very weak, and where it is accepted that inaccurate positional reports will at times be provided by the system, especially close inshore where physical obstructions to signals are more likely, there is a real risk that innocent fishermen will, at best, lose fishing time and face investigation, due to issues entirely beyond their control.

“Fishing vessel owners in England are further hampered by the fact that they are being expected to make decisions on installation timetables that are still only indicative, and without confirmation of what funding will be available. It’s completely unfair for Defra to place inshore fishermen in this position of uncertainty.

“If the authorities are determined to go down this path, the least we at NUTFA can ask for is a delay to the installation timetable, including a freeze for the smaller classes of vessel, until a full evaluation of the accuracy and reliability of the systems installed in the 10-12m fleet has been undertaken.

“It is also imperative that owners in the 10-12m class are able to confirm, as soon as possible, the level of funding that will be made available towards purchase and operation of the system.”

Jerry Percy, who previously raised the issue of the smaller vessels within the sector with MMO officials on behalf of NUTFA, added: “In conversation with the MMO staff responsible for the roll-out, we received assurance that they were actively considering derogations for smaller vessels within the under-10 sector.

“We have heard nothing further on this, but it is of course vital that the MMO provides clarity in this respect without delay, and before those under-10s that may qualify for an exemption are coerced into paying out for equipment that they may not be required to install.”

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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