Imminent introduction of trackers on boats sparks concerns from fishermen

Fishermen have raised concerns about an imminent project to help monitor fishing boats on the English coast, with one describing it as ‘abhorrent’.

Friday, 1st February 2019, 13:26 pm
Updated Friday, 1st February 2019, 13:34 pm
NIFCA chief officer Al Browne. Picture by Jane Coltman

As previously reported, smaller vessels will have to be fitted with trackers in the coming years – but funding will be provided to cover the cost.

Currently, the technology is required on boats over 12 metres in length, but the Government is extending this to all boats through the Inshore Vessel Monitoring System (iVMS) project.

The roll-out is set to take place in three stages – nine-metre-plus boats first, followed by six to nine metres and finally six metres and under – up to 2021.

At the latest quarterly meeting of the Northumberland Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (NIFCA), chief officer Al Browne confirmed that the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), which is now responsible for the roll-out, had submitted a bid for funding for the equipment from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) in December.

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He explained that the proposals had been put out for consultation by Defra, with the aim of bringing in the ‘statutory instrument’ – the law – by mid March, although there is a slight hold-up to solve the issue of installing trackers on boats which don’t have their own power supply.

He also set out how the MMO proposes to carry out the installation process and what fishing boats will have to do to get their system fitted.

However, fishermen who were at the meeting raised a number of concerns.

Michael Bould, from Amble, accepted there would be cover and warranties at first, but raised the issue of the cost of ongoing maintenance, particularly for ‘small boats who only ever go out half-a-mile from shore’.

“I find the whole system abhorrent,” he added.

Another fisherman said he totally agreed and pointed out that if the system fails, you may have to be tied up awaiting someone coming to fix it rather than out at sea.

Mr Browne said: “I’m on the project board and I do lobby quite hard that we need a quick turnaround if there are problems.”

An MMO representative explained that with the existing system on the 12-metre-plus boats, if a vessel reports an issue, usually it is granted a period of a week, for example, where it can fish without being tracked while it awaits repairs.

Mr Bould pointed out that the current system applies to hundreds of boats, but there will be 5,000 with the under 12s as well, meaning any problems which exist will be multiplied.

A third man at the meeting mentioned a situation in Essex where fishermen were refusing to use the system.

Mr Browne replied: “All I can say is, when they bring in the statutory incident, it will be law so if you don’t do it, you will be breaking the law.”

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service