Political route seen as only remaining option after ‘no tangible progress’ at industry meeting with MCA

Following the meeting at the end of last month between industry representatives from across the UK and MCA officials about the new medical certification requirements for fishermen, the NFFO has written to transport minister Mark Harper asking for an urgent meeting.

Speaking to FN at Fishmonger’s Hall at the event to mark the retirement of outgoing NFFO CEO Barrie Deas, incoming CEO Mike Cohen said the federation saw ‘little option’ other than to go down the political route, after the meeting with the MCA failed to make the progress that had been hoped for.

In a statement, the federation said: “Despite the NFFO meeting repeatedly with MCA officials and lobbying ministers to explain the seriousness of the situation, nothing has been done. This is now becoming desperate.

“Livelihoods will be lost, and the looming mental health crisis in fishing communities will be worsened. The NFFO is calling on the minister responsible to meet with us, to discuss how this state of affairs will be resolved.”

Trevor Jones, who was present at the meeting with the MCA on behalf of the Welsh Fishermen’s Association, also expressed his frustration. “There were 11 MCA staff present at the meeting,” he told FN, “but this didn’t seem to help with any tangible progress, and we really don’t see where we can go from here.”

Lowestoft Fish Market Alliance was not involved in the meeting, but spokesman Paul Lines, who has fished from Suffolk for his entire career, spoke at length on the subject with Nigel Farage on GBTV, stating that in some ports with older skippers, up to half could fail to meet the new requirements.

He told FN: “These fishermen are terrified of losing their careers, which will also see young crew with no one to sail with. The alliance has a meeting lined up with the minister. Someone has to speak truth to power.”

One piece of good news, however, did emerge last week. Plymouth fisherman Jon Anthony, the disabled veteran who featured on the front page of the 6 April issue of FN (whose story you can read here), expressing his concerns about the new medical requirements, has now received confirmation of a five-year certificate, with conditions that he told FN he is already complying with, and will not involve any change in his fishing routine.

Jon said he was ‘very surprised’ at the news – but of course also mightily relieved.

NFFO Letter To Transport Minister: ‘An existential threat to hundreds of livelihoods’

Dear Minister,

The NFFO has noted with alarm the failure of the MCA to engage with fishermen’s concerns about the impending deadline for small-boat fishermen to obtain medical fitness certificates in order to continue in their jobs.

We made plain our concern about medical certification for fishermen when the adoption of ILO C188 was first proposed. It is clear that our objections fell on deaf ears. Since then, we have made repeated efforts to work with officials to avoid the looming disaster that these rules seem certain to cause, to no better effect.

When the UK government transposed ILO C188 into UK law via the The Merchant Shipping (Work in Fishing Convention) (Medical Certification) Regulations (2018), it gave itself the option of creating an exemption from the medical certification requirement for the small-vessel fleet. That successive secretaries of state have opted not to do this is as baffling as it is disappointing.

Making matters worse, it was decided to compound the problem by gold-plating the regulations: applying to inshore fishermen the same standards as are applied to mariners in the deep-sea merchant fleet. Fishermen working close to shore, on vessels under 10m in length, are being held to more exacting standards than those mandated for HGV driving or working at height. This cannot be right.

An expensive, onerous and hugely anxiety-provoking solution has been created for a problem that does not exist. I do not believe that a single instance will be found in the reports of the MAIB of an accident being caused by a fisherman being overweight.

By contrast, the terrible consequences of the toll that these rules are taking on fishermen’s mental health can all too easily be imagined. The MCA’s single-track approach to fishermen is having unintended results that contribute nothing to their safety.

This is not merely a further extension of the proliferation of red tape that has swamped small fishing businesses in recent years, it is an existential threat to hundreds of livelihoods.

We would highlight:

  • The unavailability of GPs willing to undertake ML5 examinations • An appeal process that is slow and lacking in clarity
  • Reluctance to apply workable grandfather rights for single-handed vessels
  • Unwarranted discrimination against existing medical conditions
  • Unnecessary additional pressure being placed on an already exhausted NHS primary care system.

We cannot believe that this government is intent on depriving hardworking people of their livelihoods. The implementation of these regulations in the small- boat fleet must be halted while government reconsiders its position.

We would like to meet with you to discuss the resolution of this issue as a matter of urgency.

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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