The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO), which was in Westminster last week briefing MPs on various current issues around fishermen’s safety, made an impassioned plea to MPs asking them to engage with Mark Harper (pictured above), the secretary of state for transport.

Mark Harper has failed to respond to the NFFO on the issues for over two months, backtracking on a promise during questions in parliament to meet with fishermen to hear their concerns, in particular over the new ML5 health certification requirements.

The promise was made after Liberal Democrat MP for East Fife Wendy Chamberlain raised concerns about a fisherman in her constituency who faced losing his job over the provisions of the ML5.

“The complete lack of response from the minister or any of his officials is completely unprecedented in all my years representing the fishing industry,” NFFO chief executive Mike Cohen told FN.

“We had our response with his special political advisor on 13 July, the day he made the promise to MPs in parliament. We have followed up with a hard copy of the letter, emails, voice mails, messages via supportive MPs. Nothing has elicited a response.

“We are at a point where we’ve tried everything we can to get an informed discussion, promised to us in parliament, on an issue that is having a devastating impact on people’s lives, for no tangible safety benefit.

“The legislation bringing in the ML5 is explicit in allowing the secretary of state the power to create exemptions for certain groups of fishermen. All the discussion that took place over the years before the legislation was introduced were relating to larger vessels, where no exemptions are allowed, for very understandable reasons.

“The MCA is rather disingenuously saying that very few fishermen have failed the ML5. This ignores the fact that much larger numbers of professional fishermen, with years of experience under their belts, are being given conditions that in reality are unworkable and will put them out of business.

“There is a real lack of allowing for any human dignity here. People who are highly skilled, who have successfully managed their businesses for many years, are coming up against this patronising attitude of ‘we know best’ from practitioners who have little understanding of how these fishermen work at sea, or the steps they have taken to ensure their own health and safety, often based on several decades of working experience.

“We at least are seeing many coastal MPs waking up to the fact that with an election looming, they need to defend the livelihoods of their constituents. We were briefing MPs in Westminster last week, of all parties, who are quite appalled at the total lack of interest shown in this issue by the secretary of state.”

Last week, NUTFA received legal advice which it said confirms that the entire consultation process that ultimately led to the adoption of the ML5 certification requirements was unsafe.

The original terms of reference for what was termed at the time the ‘ILO Convention Working Group’, agreed in 2014 at a meeting chaired by the MCA, were, according to NUTFA’s legal counsel, ‘fatally flawed’.

Writing to the MCA, Sarah Ready of NUTFA said: “There has been no effective consultation with the inshore fleet with a positive act from the Tripartite Group to exclude inshore fishing fleet reps from the outset at meeting 1.

“I am writing to a number of MPs this week regarding this issue, pushing for an extension of time for roll-out, to enable a proper consultation.”

The extension requested relates to the 30 November deadline for all fishermen to have an ML5. NUTFA continues to press for workable exemptions for inshore day-boats working within range of a safe haven – pointing out that the MCA’s own records confirm that this will have no negative impact on fishermen’s safety.

The MCA has reacted to last week’s suggestion from NUTFA that the government’s failure to meet the statutory five-year deadline for reporting on the implementation of the Fishing Vessel Code of Practice, which expired on 22 October last year, calls into question the legality of any enforcement actions taken by the MCA since then.

An MCA spokesperson disputed this, saying: “MCA’s position is that the delayed review of the regulations under regulation 21 does not obviate the requirements of the regulations, which continue to remain in force.”

The MCA also confirmed a previous statement about the statutory review, saying that it was ‘nearly complete and will be published in due course’.

Westminster Debate Exchange: Minister’s promise to meet industry

Wendy Chamberlain: “I hope he will meet fishing representatives to hear their concerns.”

Mark Harper: “Either I or the maritime minister will be pleased to do that.”

Hansard, 13 July

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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