It was promised in parliament on 13 July this year. After several postponements, Mark Harper, secretary of state for transport, finally met with Mike Cohen, the chief executive of the NFFO, on 25 October. The much-anticipated meeting was touted by the minister’s office as evidence that he was ‘listening’ to the many concerned politicians and industry representatives who were raising, in particular, the fast-approaching deadline for the ML5 medical certificate, but also the many Notices of Prosecution over the use of PFDs, the Under-15m Safety Code and other issues.

However, several weeks after the meeting, which in theory heralded a new approach and relationship, the following is the entire public statement about the meeting and the issues discussed that Fishing News has been able to obtain from the Department for Transport: “A Department for Transport spokesperson said: ‘The secretary of state recently had a productive meeting with the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations, during which he reiterated the government’s commitment to continue engagement on key issues like the health of people in the fishing industry.’

“Background: there is not a one-off review; MCA is keeping all matters relating to medical certification under continuous review, and will keep ministers and key stakeholders informed where potential issues are identified.”

That is it. In full. There is no actual comment from the minister himself, despite this being requested by FN, nor any detailed response from the MCA itself, in spite of the fact that the then maritime minister, Baroness Vere, was also present, along with a large group of officials.

Mike Cohen told Fishing News: “If this sort of thing did not happen with such depressing regularity, I would say that it is unbelievable that there are still problems with medical certification in the inshore fleet.

“It should be obvious to any intelligent observer that stress and anxiety caused by the rules have already caused far more harm to the health and wellbeing of fishers than they were ever likely to prevent. Not only that, but there are clear and obvious solutions available, some of them written into the regulations themselves. But here we are. Still.

“The government has said that few people have been refused a medical certificate. Hundreds have failed their initial assessment, however, and have been subjected to an opaque appeals process that has often resulted in them being presented with unworkable restrictions.

“The government has said that fitness certificates are necessary because fishermen who get ill at sea will put at risk the lives of others who go to rescue them. No one has produced any evidence to show that this actually happens, however.

“Moreover, the hundreds of thousands of people who go to sea on private boats every year don’t need medical certificates. Surely, of the point is to prevent the lifeboats from having to rescue sick mariners, the same rules should apply to everyone. Perhaps the government leaves yacht owners alone because they are all in peak physical fitness and never get ill.

“When I met with secretary of state for transport Mark Harper on 25 October, I made him aware of all the problems that medical certification is causing. He did not agree with every concern that the fishing industry has expressed but, crucially, he acknowledged that the regulations were having unintended consequences. “He agreed to re-examine their operation and the most problematic aspects of the medical standards. This was a very positive step – but a month on we have heard nothing more, and the time is now very late.

“Earlier this month, my colleague Charles Blyth called for a pause in the implementation of the regulations, while their problems are resolved. The MCA’s response has again been silence.

“Sometimes, when you say nothing, you send a very clear message. I don’t think I like the message the MCA is sending to fishermen here.

“Awareness and agreement are worthless without action. The growing burden of regulations on the small businesses in our inshore fishing fleet and the impact of that constant pressure on the lives of the people who work in it are inexcusable. Those in power cannot claim to be ignorant of the consequences of their decisions. They must act now to undo at least some of the harm they have caused.

“Lord Davies is now the minister responsible for maritime issues at the Department for  Transport. His relationship with the fishing industry is a clean slate. If he opens it by pausing the implementation of these misguided regulations, reviewing their operation, and listening to fishermen, he will get off to a very good start indeed.”

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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