The new under ten Fishermen’s Association (NUFTA) has written to the newly appointed MCA chief executive Virginia McVea requesting an urgent meeting about the unprecedented numbers of worried fishermen seeking its advice about the new medical requirements being introduced this November.

NUTFA director Jerry Percy told FN that some respondents had been told to provide health information by email, after busy GPs were unable to provide appointments for the ML5 medical exam. This has pushed some fishermen to private medical providers, who charge up to £150 for the ENG1 medical, which was developed for deep-sea mariners.

Medical details such as a body mass index (BMI) above the recommended guidelines then ‘set up fishermen to fail’ before they have even been seen in person, said Jerry Percy – despite many applicants being the same weight for several decades of working at sea.

“The BMI check has been discredited time and again as a measure of health and fitness by a range of experts. Destroying someone’s livelihood based on this, an email questionnaire and a telephone consultation is simply not acceptable,” he said.

“There is no doubt that health professionals will always err on the side of caution, but stopping a man from working a small open boat close to shore in daylight hours on the basis that he is slightly colour-blind is clearly a nonsense. Asking a guy who has been the same size and weight for 20 years to lose three stone in three months also raises concerns.

“It is also clear that the massive impact on the mental health of many fishermen as a result of these demands has not been considered, and this is particularly impacting when the communications that accompany the demands are far from clear.

“NUTFA has taken extensive legal advice on the matter, and we continue to have doubts about the legality of much of what has brought us to the current situation, with deadlines fast approaching.

“The arrival of a new CEO at the MCA at least gives opportunity for all to draw situation, and develop a sensible and pragmatic approach to fishermen’s safety and welfare, before this deadline is reached and devastates families and coastal communities across the country.”

Anyone who has concerns about the implications of the new requirements is invited to contact NUTFA on 07402 089170.

Legal Background: Is the MCA in breach of the regulatory code?

The detailed NUTFA letter to the MCA, which FN has seen, is primarily a request for an urgent early meeting between the MCA and industry representatives to discuss the implementation of the medical certification, which becomes mandatory on 30 November this year.

However, as well as outlining the main issues impacting fishermen, and making the argument in respect of the content and implementation of the medical requirements, it also questions whether the entire process of introduction has been compliant with the government’s own regulatory code.

The code places a number of obligations on bodies such as the MCA to ‘carry out their activities in a way that supports those they regulate to comply and grow’ and ‘provide simple and straightforward ways to engage with those they regulate and hear their views’.

Section 2.1 of the code stipulates: “Before changing policies, practices or service standards, regulators should consider the impact on business and engage with business representatives.”

In relation to this, NUTFA asks: “Please advise what ‘engagement’ there has been by the MCA with the fishing industry in respect of the new medical certification, and provide the impact assessment in respect of the impact on the fishing livelihoods of the fishermen who are subject to a medical assessment for certification purposes.”

A face to face meeting with the new CEO, NUTFA says, would allow honest and open discussion with industry, and allow her to hear at first hand from those who face ‘potentially massive devastation that would occur from a strict adherence to your interpretation of the requirements [of the new assessment]’.

NUTFA has also requested information regarding the number of health-related incidents at sea that have affected the safe operation of a smaller fishing vessel, and awaits a response.

With regard to the introduction of the legislation itself, The Merchant Shipping (Work in Fishing Convention) (Medical Certification) Regulations 2018 states in Section 17 that the secretary of state must carry out a review of the regulations and publish these before 23 October, 2023.

There is as yet no sight of this report, or confirmation from Defra of when it will be published. NUTFA points out that this date is just weeks before the implementation date set by the MCA for medical certificates – at which point many fishermen’s insurance policies will become invalid if they are not certified.

NUTFA also questions whether the secretary of state has followed the Merchant Shipping Act requirement in section 86 to ‘consult such persons in the United Kingdom (if any) as he considers will be affected by the proposals’ on safety regulations.

NUTFA has circulated its thoughts widely, it says, ‘in the hope that a joined-up approach on this issue can assist with the speed that will be required to thrash out all issues over the next eight months’.

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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