NFFO Chief Executive Mike Cohen met Secretary of State for Transport Mark Harper, Baroness Vere, the ministers charged with oversight of the MCA, the ministers’ political advisors and MCA staff last Thursday, in a long-planned, and much postponed, meeting, which was dominated by discussions about the ML5.

With the ML5 deadline looming, and an election likely in 2024, this meeting was really the last realistic chance of persuading the two ministers of the inherent contradictions in much of the MCA’s poorly thought-through implementation of the regulations, which has resulted in a rush of last-minute changes of policy, as highlighted repeatedly by industry representatives.

On the ML5 in particular, contradictory advice has been issued by various officials connected with the medical approval process, with fishermen variously being told that a high BMI was not a medical issue eligible under grandfather rights, but was in fact ‘a lifestyle choice’.

One female fisherman was told she couldn’t go to sea as she was in the early stages of pregnancy, and another fisherman was told to take the ENG1 if he wanted to be signed off as fit to work. Stark inconsistencies relating to eyesight tests and in advice given to diabetic fishermen have also been shared widely on social media.

“The NFFO is pleased that the secretary of state has listened to our very serious concerns about the current approach being taken by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency on medical certificates for fishers,” Mike Cohen said after the meeting.

“The secretary of state acknowledged the issues to some extent. He described the current situation as having had unintended consequences, and conceded that the way in which some medical conditions were treated under the current system may not be the right one. Crucially, he said that he will review how this is operating.

“I pressed for a clear scope and timeline for that review, which was not forthcoming at the meeting. A follow-up note was promised, setting out more clearly how the government now intends to proceed.

“The meeting felt like we made progress, but it is too early to know when and to what extent we will see change, with the 30 November deadline looming for fishers to have a valid medical certificate. We remain very concerned about the impact this is having on the welfare of our members, and will continue to campaign until we see meaningful changes.”

FN contacted the MCA for a response about the meeting, asking specifically, with the deadline looming, about the likely timeline for the review promised by the secretary of state, but had received no response at the time of going to press.

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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