English under-10s slam mobile Catch App
‘Complete rethink’ needed, minister told

Pressure is mounting from the English under-10m sector for the recently introduced electronic Catch App reporting system to be scrapped or suspended, reports Tim Oliver

Fishermen have reported endless technical problems with the system, and a ‘Scrap the App’ petition has been set up (#ScrapTheApp). MPs also attacked the new system in a fisheries debate last week.

The Coastal PO has conducted a survey to gauge fishermen’s opinions of the new Catch App, which showed an overwhelming rejection of the system. Out of 208 responses (10% of English under-10s), 82% said that the system was ‘bad or worse’ and 50% said they ‘hated it’.

SE Cornwall MP Sheryll Murray says that a ‘complete rethink’ is needed.

SE Cornwall MP Sheryll Murray says that a ‘complete rethink’ is needed.

MPs, including Conservatives, slammed the Catch App in a debate in Westminster, and called for ‘a complete rethink’.

Sheryll Murray, Conservative MP for South East Cornwall and a longstanding fishing industry champion, said that the new licence condition requires skippers of under-10m boats to estimate to within a 10% tolerance the weight of all fish caught, species by species, before the fish have been landed. She said this is ‘almost impossible’, and that a mistake made fishermen liable to criminal prosecution, with a maximum fine of £100,000.

Given the mixed catch in the South West, that could put an extra hour or two on the end of a long working day for an under-10m trawler. “That is totally unreasonable, and is not safe,” said Sheryll Murray.

She told MPs and the fisheries minister that she had used the app herself and had seen some of the problems that fishermen encounter. “There has been a string of technical and practical problems with the app and the contact centre, which is open only during office hours,” she said.

“According to the app, some harbours and landing places do not exist, and it does not recognise that fishermen can catch more than 10 different species. People have had problems getting through to the contact centre. As far as the app is concerned, the threat of criminal prosecution for estimating outside the 10% tolerance should be removed, and there should be a complete rethink about the new system.”

She called on fisheries minister George Eustice, who attended the debate before his promotion to secretary of state at DEFRA, to meet fishermen’s representatives and fish auctioneers to ensure that the app was operated in a way that reassured fishermen.

“Something that could benefit UK fishermen is being interpreted as a tool to use against them, because of the complexity of the app and the worry that it will be used as a tool for prosecution,” she added.

Anthony Mangnall, Conservative MP for Totnes in South Devon, said that digital connectivity in his constituency lagged 9% behind the rest of the country, which created problems logging on to the app. “This makes it near-impossible for any fisherman coming in to be able to connect and register that catch before landing. That is something that I would very much like to see delivered.”

George Eustice acknowledged that the app was ‘not particularly popular’, but said that he believed it was the right decision to introduce it.

“If we want to move to a more sophisticated way of managing the inshore fleet – maybe to give them quotas that run for several months, rather than just one month at a time, or to experiment with effort-based regimes – it is important that we have reliable data on catch,” he said.

He said that studies carried out by CEFAS had shown that there was ‘a significant mismatch between what is recorded through sales notes and what is being caught and observed on vessels, so we need to improve the quality of the data that we have’.

George Eustice said that vessels over 12m, and those between 10m and 12m, have a two-stage process. “They must record and log their catch data, which can be based on an estimate, but in the case of the over-12s, within 24 hours they then must submit a landing declaration, which has the precise weight of each species.

“For reasons I entirely understand, the under-10s said they did not want the administration involved in a two-stage process when we explored this option with them. They did not want to have to record catch data, and make a landing declaration.

“Our approach – a one-system approach of catch data only – was designed at the request of the industry to make the process simpler. We think most fishermen can make reasonable estimates of their weight – they do not have to do it while at sea. They can do it when they have tied their vessel up. They can weigh the fish and submit the record as they unload it from their vessel. We are working with them to ensure we can make this work in practice.”

The MMO says that the system has been introduced to provide better catch data to improve fisheries management, and has said that it will not be ‘heavy-handed’ in prosecuting fishermen for mistakes.


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