English and Welsh authorities have both recently confirmed their intention to roll out mandatory carriage and use of VMS to all vessels registered with them in 2022.

Whilst the identities of the four iVMS units that will be approved for fitting to the under-12m fleet in England were confirmed in December, the legal position for their mandatory use still appears to be unclear. Both administrations have also committed to providing financial support to fit the units, but again, no confirmation as to the amounts of support available have yet been published.

The provisional timetable for rollout to the fleet, published in the ‘iVMS One Stop Shop’ document on the MMO website, is shown in the table, but it is hard to see how this timetable will be adhered to, when many ports have a small number of vessels, or vessels of very differing sizes, and are often in remote locations that installation engineers will struggle to get to.

Speaking to Fishing News, a NUTFA representative said: “NUTFA is asking for the smaller vessels to be exempt.

“We are getting quite a few calls from fishermen worried about the speed of this rollout, especially when no confirmation has yet been given of the financial support that may be available.

“Our advice to Defra has been that without more robust testing, and careful planning, this pace of rollout could yet come back to haunt them. We met with Defra officials recently, and advised them that a stay needs to be considered in order to ensure that the fishermen are not prejudiced by a system that has not been fully tested as a whole.

“NUTFA have advised that in our view the systems may not be fit for purpose. We also expressed our concerns to Defra on the lack of due diligence in respect of the procurement process.”

NUTFA continues to advise that there is too much risk to fishermen, as the approved units may not yet have been fully tested in the fishing conditions seen on small boats.

The Welsh government also confirmed shortly before Christmas its plans to introduce an order in early 2022 that prohibits all under-12m vessels from fishing in Welsh waters unless they are carrying an operational iVMS unit, capable of broadcasting position, speed and course to the Welsh Fisheries Monitoring Centre every 10 minutes.

Unlike the situation in England, where vessel owners have the choice of four type-approved iVMS units, Welsh-registered vessels will be expected to fit and operate a unit through UK provider AST, which is the sole contractor to the Welsh government. As in England, whilst commitment has been made towards funding these units, and the first year of operation, grant levels have yet to be confirmed.

In Scotland, although the Scottish government’s Programme for Government 2021-22, agreed with the Scottish Green Party, commits to a rollout of VMS, it provides much less detail, and does not confirm any dates for its introduction into additional Scottish-registered vessels, or confirm whether the smallest vessels on the register will have to carry iVMS.

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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