Enforcement of the controversial under-10m electronic Catch App for English boats will start in full on Monday, 28 February, the MMO has confirmed, reports Tim Oliver.

The MMO said it has supported a period of adjustment to allow fishers to get used to catch recording without facing action for breaching the licence condition. This had resulted in 88% of the 2,110 English- registered vessels signing up to use the Catch App.

It said it will continue to give support, and fishermen not using the app will be given opportunities to comply before ‘more serious action’ is taken (see below).

But many in the English under-10m sector continue to oppose the app. They say it is still not ‘fit for purpose’ and they should not be put in a position of facing criminal charges for failing to use technology that is inadequate.

Jerry Percy, director of NUTFA, said there was still confusion about exactly how the app should be used. The MMO failed to recognise some of the challenges fishermen had with the system. There was a failure of communication, and the MMO should repeat and clarify its guidance.

He also contrasted the demands made on small-boat English fishermen to give full details of their entire catches electronically with the total lack of reporting and monitoring of large foreign fly-shooters fishing non-quota species in the Channel, and other large foreign vessels fishing in UK waters.

“They tell us the percentages of fishermen who have signed up to the app, but they fail to recognise there is a serious percentage of fishermen who for a range of reasons are either particularly averse to the app, or are not capable or don’t have the equipment to be able to weigh and report their catches on the boats in the harbour before they leave the boat,” he told Fishing News.

“They go home to do it and probably get their family to give them a hand, but it’s still going to be very difficult for a number of fishermen.

“We’re talking about mooring in harbours, but what happens if you’re a beach boat? At what point do you have to do it then?”

He said he and his NUTFA colleague Sarah Ready, who have followed all the detail of the app and were in regular contact with the MMO, were still confused about its use.

“If people like me and Sarah aren’t clear about when and how and what, there must be a lot of fishermen out there in the same boat. They [the MMO] really need to reiterate what’s required,” he said.

“I’m confused as to whether you can do it at sea – the MAIB says it’s not safe – or whether you can do it in the harbour, on your moorings, on the beach – if you’re a beach boat, can you do it when you get to your truck?”

He said a study carried out in Cornwall to assess how accurately fishermen could estimate the weight of their catches showed they were wrong by between 17% and 22%, while the margin of tolerance accepted by the authorities is only 10%.

“It’s very difficult to judge the weight of a box of fish when fish have been gutted and iced,” said Jerry Percy.

He said with the combination of the Catch App and the confusing introduction of inshore vessel monitoring (IVMS), it was not surprising that inshore fishermen ‘don’t know whether they’re coming or going’.

MMO: Quayside help and advice planned

Confirming that full enforcement of the Catch App in England will start on 28 February, the MMO said it will nevertheless give time and help to fishermen who are still not complying before taking action, and is planning quayside advice sessions.

An MMO spokesperson told Fishing News: “The catch recording service, including the app, have been adapted based on fishers’ feedback to better support fishers, and the MMO will continue to listen to fishers’ experience of using the service.

“However, compliance with the licence condition remains variable. So, to ensure fairness to fishers who do log catch records and to ensure consistency and accuracy of catch data, the MMO will begin to enforce the licence condition from 28 February.

“In line with our compliance and enforcement strategy, fishers who continue to fail to meet with their licence obligation will have further opportunities to comply before more serious action is considered.

“The MMO will consider each case on its own merits, including any mitigating factors, before deciding on the most appropriate outcome.

“We will continue to give support to fishers in using the catch recording service, and are planning sessions on quaysides over the coming weeks to offer fishers practical advice in using the app to help them comply.

“Our catch recording helpline will remain a source of support and our marine officers will continue to assist with specific issues fishers may have.”

The MMO said improving understanding of how much fish, and which species of fish, are being taken from which sea areas is vital for better management of stocks, and catch recording ‘will deliver this clearer picture’.

Up to 11 November, 2021, the total number of records logged in the system was 139,759, but compliance with the licence condition was still ‘variable’.

“From July to October 2021, 77% of active vessels have supplied catch records, with 66% reporting for most of their trips and about 11% reporting for some of their trips.

“As a result, marine officers will start to monitor compliance from 28 February, and we
will be enforcing the licence condition.”

Legality questioned if app not ‘fit for purpose’

A leading marine lawyer who has been involved with the Catch App since its introduction said there were still questions over the legality of enforcing the app because it was still not working properly.

Andrew Oliver, of Hull specialist marine lawyer Andrew Jackson, advised on two legal challenges to the app by industry organisations Plymouth Trawler Agents and Felixstowe and Harwich Fishermen’s Association, in 2020.

He said he is currently engaged in similar work for some fishermen’s organisations on a pro bono basis, looking at the legality of enforcing the app because it is still technically inadequate. In certain ports it is not feasible to comply with it because there are no weighing scales, or the signal is not working or inadequate.

He told Fishing News: “I envisage that there will be some challenges to it in terms of whether or not it’s fit for purpose, or whether you can start enforcing a piece of legislation where it’s actually impossible technically to comply with it.”

He said the same problems and principles applied to the IVMS system for under-12m boats that is currently being rolled out in England.

“The IVMS rollout appears to be equally fraught with problems in the sense that the process that’s being used is one that maybe puts the fishermen at risk.

“What we’re finding with the IVMS that’s already in place is that there’s a lack of spare parts, that the system isn’t as reliable as it should be, and it’s putting the commercial risk of buying the equipment and being responsible if it goes wrong on the fishermen.

“So we’re again looking at the MMO and their policies and asking whether it’s lawful for the MMO to make these requirements reliant on technology that they know full well is not watertight.

“If it’s impossible or difficult for fishermen to comply because the technology isn’t sufficiently tested and reliable, then surely it’s the case that fishermen should not be prosecuted and given criminal records when the technology isn’t up to speed.

“The government should seek legal advice before they continue with enforcement of the app.”

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more on this, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here


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