English small-scale fishermen have been forced to launch legal action against the MMO over the CatchApp
ScrapTheAPP group and Plymouth Fishermen Brian Tapper have today (02 March 2022) commenced the first step of a judicial review legal challenge against the Marine Management Organisation to stop them from enforcing new regulations that could see English fishermen, prosecuted, given an unlimited fine, and a criminal record for something it is impossible to comply with consistently.
A pre-action protocol letter has been sent by leading Fisheries Lawyer Andrew Oliver, partner at Andrew Jackson, Hull. Alan Maclean QC of Blackstone Chambers, has also been instructed.
Plymouth Fishermen Brian Tapper said:
“Sadly we have been left with no choice than to instruct lawyers and Counsel to act for us and challenge the Government on this new rule. Around 2200 English fishermen will be affected by this, we all woke up today (March 1st) with this new specter of prosecution hanging over our heads. The MMO just aren’t listening to the problems and are carrying on regardless with their tick box exercise on a self imposed deadline they control. It is shameful how we have been treated and ignored. Morale is at an all time low across the small boat fleet, and I am worried about the additional stress and mental health implications the CatchAPP causes, everyday I am speaking to fishermen who are at the end of their tether.
“The new rule via a fishing license condition requires fishermen to estimate within a margin of tolerance of 10% the weight of their catches when they land. Accurate fisheries data, of their catches, is already submitted to the MMO via the Buyers and Sellers Act which requires auction houses and fish merchants taking catches to provide this information after weighing the fish and within 48 hours.”
Leading fisheries lawyer Andrew Oliver, Partner at Andrew Jackson Solicitors LLP, Hull, he said:
“We have today sent pre-action letters to the MMO on behalf of clients ScrapTheAPP and Brian Tapper. Our clients have been left with no choice but to mount a legal challenge to the irrationality of the MMO bringing forward the enforcement stage of a rule Government knows cannot be complied with consistently. We have asked the MMO to voluntarily suspend the enforcement rollout, come to the table and work to resolve the unworkable, but stand ready to file in the High Court if they won’t. The letter is the first step in the Judicial Review process”.
“It is impossible to consistently estimate and guess the weight of catches, accurately. Governments’ own data demonstrate that c.40% of estimated landing data for larger boats is outside the 10% margin of tolerance, and when it is wrong, it can be out by as much as 116%.”
ScrapTheAPP co-founder and Chair of Felixstowe Ferry Fishermen’s Association James White said
“The Government’s own commissioning of reports on the margin of tolerance rules, and historical catch records demonstrates fishermen cannot accurately and consistently estimate their catches. Parliamentary questions asked about the landing statistics for bigger boats demonstrated that c.40% of the time the data is not within 10% margin of tolerance and when it’s not, it can be out by as much as 116%. How can it make sense to hold fear of prosecution, and a criminal record over small-scale fishermens heads for a regulation the Government knows, cannot be complied with.”
Despite the MMO being notified by fishermen, some landing stages and ports are still missing and fishermen are being advised to use a different port on the drop-down menu, which is a technical offence, now punishable via a prosecution with an unlimited fine. It is lamentable after a 2-year pause, this still has not been resolved.
The small-scale fleet is mostly owner/operators, microbusinesses with little or no savings and financial resilience. For two years these small boats have been trying to get the MMO and DEFRA Secretary of State Rt. Hon George Eustace, and Fisheries Minister Rt. Hon. Victoria Prentis, to listen to concerns.
EU boats, licensed by the UK Government to fish in UK waters do not have to carry and use the CatchAPP, nor do Scottish, Welsh, and NI vessels. The new rules discriminate against the English coastal communities and c.2200 small English fishing boats under 10 metres in length.
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