The Under-10 metre fishing sector says it is relief after news that the MMO will delay implementing the CatchApp
The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) will delay the implementation of its CatchApp after a successful legal objection by under-10 metre fleet representatives.
The CatchApp approved by the MMO is designed for fishers of under-10 metre fishing vessels in England and Wales who were ordered to use it for estimating and reporting the weight of their catch after each fishing trip.
Since its unveiling by the MMO, the CatchApp has caused controversy amongst the inshore industry with a reported £2.4 million spent on its development and implementation. Many associations have said that the App is not fit for purpose with Conservative backbenchers calling for a “complete rethink” and the one Labour Party MP called for it to be “scrapped”.
One of the major issues the under-10m fleet had with the App was that catch declarations have to be within a 10% margin of error. Any errors outside that estimate could result in a boat being prosecuted and facing an unlimited fine.
This was deemed by the sector as being too onerous on fishers, as making the estimation is overly reliant on guesswork and being accurate within 10% on a moving boat under 10 metres at sea can be difficult at the best of times.
Another issue which the App faced was the fact that fishers are required to own a smartphone to download and operate it. The case was argued that a lot of fishers don’t own a smartphone, nevermind knowing how to operate one and many of the older generation don’t have a mobile phone at all.
Under-10 metre vessels account for 80% of the fishing fleet in England and Wales. The MMO claimed that the CatchApp would provide accurate information for future quota allocations and better reflect fishing interests in future marine development. But the MMO’s policy would only be achievable if the boat carried weighing scales (and there isn’t much room on a 10 metre boat for that) and also carried a smartphone.
Most fishers preferred the previous method of reporting catches as the serious consequences of accidentally misreporting a submission via the App is a criminal prosecution which has been described by many in the fishing industry as “another way of prosecuting fishermen.”
In April this year, representatives of the under-10 metre fleet served legal notice on the MMO, warning that any attempt to prosecute skippers for incorrect submissions would be challenged in court.
The Press Association reports that on June 12, the MMO sent correspondence to legal representatives for the fishers which said: “We know most fishers are operating in good faith and making efforts to comply with the catch recording guidance.
“We have clarified publicly that at this stage we are asking that fishers register for the system and submit returns, providing feedback to the MMO so that any necessary improvements and/or support can be provided.
“When we move to an enforcement phase we will notify industry in good time and our compliance and enforcement strategy sets our overall approach to this.”
Fishing representatives say it is the first time the reassurances have been put into writing by the MMO.
The regulator had previously said it would only pursue criminal prosecution where it was found to be “in the public interest, proportionate and
appropriate to do so”.
Dave Pessell from Plymouth Trawler Agents jointly sponsored the legal notice with the Felixstowe and Harwich Fishermen’s Association and was represented through solicitor Andrew Oliver.
Speaking to the Press Association, Andrew Oliver, the fisheries lawyer representing the Under-10 sector representatives, said the written reassurance meant “a prosecution would fail” unless the MMO gave notice that the app’s testing period had ended.
“I think this is something the industry can rely on and take some comfort from,” said the solicitor.
On the MMO decision Davide Pessell said “We are pleased that the MMO has now accepted that the catch recording system is far from ready for implementation, despite £2.4m having been spent so far. Acknowledging a mistake of this scale is a difficult admission. But, expecting fishermen to guess weights on a boat is not the answer. We want accurate data. It is essential for the sustainable management of our fisheries. We hope that the MMO will take this opportunity to think again and work with us in finding an alternative solution. We hope that the MMO will take this opportunity to think again and work with us in finding an alternative solution.”
Fellow co-sponsor, the Felixstowe and Harwich Fishermen’s Association greeted the news as relief.
James White, spokesperson for the Association said, “The worry of prosecution has been hanging over many heads for months. This news is welcome relief from all the unnecessary stress the mmo handling of it has caused. It’s a crazy time we live in where fishermen are arguing for accurate data, and the regulator wants guesses! Let’s hope DEFRA takes time and an independent look at this £2.4M mess and then come and speak to fishermen who are effected, not leaders who claim representation.”
Earlier today Jerry Percy, Chairperson of the New Under Ten Fishermens Association (NUFTA) said “there is a great sense of relief felt by the very many inshore fishermen who have been struggling with the requirements under the CatchApp regulation for many months, with the fear of prosecution hanging over their heads.
“The MMO had announced in December of last year that they were moving from the education to their enforcement phase with regard to the App in 2020. On that basis the turnaround is most welcome if somewhat late in the day.
“The real tragedy is that the MMO have stuck rigidly to their support for the App irrespective of the massive number of queries and complaints that they have received since the time of its introduction rather than heed the very real efforts made by NUTFA and others to support a withdrawal and review of catch recording and reporting for the under ten metre sector.
“So despite MMO expenditure of £2.4 million on the App, we are still really no further forward in this regard.
“We can only hope now that the MMO will take heed of everything that so many fishermen and organisations have been telling them from the start and get round the table to design a system that is fit for purpose and doesn’t run the risk of needlessly criminalising hard working and honest fishermen.
“It is a shame that it has taken a brave stand by Dave Pessell at Plymouth Trawler Agents and the Felixstowe and Harwich Fishermen’s Association to instigate the threat of legal proceedings via Solicitor Andrew Oliver before the MMO have come to the realisation that the App is simply not fit for purpose.”
Labour’s Luke Pollard, the Shadow Environment Secretary and the MP who called for the App to be scrapped said “The CatchApp was never fit for purpose and it should now be replaced with a new system designed with fishing communities. We need to have decent reporting but simply guessing the weight of the fish is not robust or acceptable. Ministers have spent months defending a broken system. It is time they started to listen to fishing communities who know their industry much better than those trying to regulate them.”