Sunday, 13 February 2022

Small scale fishermen feeling the pressure - MMO new iVMS requirements.

 


Small-scale fishermen across England have expressed concerns and anxiety about the rollout of the iVMS and the timeframe given to the fleet to install devices onboard their vessels.

Recent articles have highlighted the pressures felt by English fishermen as they are faced with new regulation to comply with to include the roll out of inshore vessel monitoring to the under 12m fleet.

This project, originally timetabled for roll-out by the UK Government in 2019 has suffered serious delays, that saw the type approval process led by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) only being conducted in the last half 2021. This led to suppliers, whose systems had ‘met’ the criteria being approved and named just before Christmas. The MMO cannot recommend one supplier over another, and can only publish the most basic information about the suppliers and their products. The MMO updated industry on January 5th 2022 Inshore Vessel Monitoring (I-VMS) for under-12m fishing vessels registered in England – GOV.UK

The first tranche of vessels 10-12m have until 14 March 2022 to choose and install the kit, in order to receive grant funding support from the MMO. Fishermen are left with just weeks to conduct due diligence on the kit offered, on the companies financial health and stability and review contracts being offered by the companies for the services and warranty they are offering. This would be a tight timeframe with the need for specialist legal advice even for larger companies with shore based support. But many in the small scale fleet are owner operators, most are micro businesses and many will not have to investigate suppliers and contracts in this way before.

It has left many fishermen worrying and uninformed choices being made to order the kit at a lightning pace in order not to miss out on funding available. Some fishermen in remote ports away from larger fleets with resident marine electronic specialists have been forced to choose now, because they have to book appointments weeks in advance for technicians to travel and work on their vessels.

The MMO, aware of the concerns, hosted a meet the supplier event with a Q & A session virtually on Wednesday 9th February but it left many fishermen with more questions than answers.

Cornish fishermen Duncan Murt raised questions about the security of data that would be held by the suppliers prior to it being forwarded to the MMO hub. This was new to many who had assumed the MMO type approval would have required data from the onboard systems to leave the vessel system and go straight to the Government hub.

“I am not sure how we conduct due diligence on each suppliers fire-walls and protections for keeping our data safe from hacking and tampering. The MMO type approval prescribes that data has to be encrypted when moving across systems but how can we be sure our fishing data is being held securely by these suppliers? I am not an IT specialist, nor a lawyer and I have no idea how, when choosing a piece of kit, I can make sure that all the safeguards are in place to protect our information and what legal recourse we can require in the contracts to hold them liable if they don’t protect it, It is a mess, it’s just one more thing to worry about.

Most fishermen raised concerns about the speed at which they were being required to make choices, and that it did not allow time for proper investigations of the kit and companies and there was a consensus asking the MMO to take away the concerns of the speed of the roll out and see if the funding time limits could be paused, or lengthened to allow fishermen more time to meet the suppliers around the coast and investigate the kit further. The MMO agreed to take this away and come back with a swift response, although they could not guarantee it would be within the 48 hours requested.

Lots of fishermen, particularly those whose boats are moored or beached in areas with no mobile phone coverage, raised concerns about data not being transmitted and the potential for no signal even when they returned from sea. The MMO and suppliers confirmed that the type approval required the kit to be able to send, and store once in coverage range, but it left many feeling the connectivity issue was not really understood.

Former MMO officer and executive officer for the South Devon Shellfish and Channel Shellfishermen’s Association, Beshlie Pool said:

“There are real concerns about the lack of understanding of mobile phone coverage in some ports and beach landings used by our members. I am sure there are other areas too around the English coast where you just do not get a signal, ever. Because they are small boats often staying close to home, it is not unusual for them to have no signal at sea either. It is unclear what happens if an installer cannot connect to the server to register the kit as required. After that, what happens if a vessel never comes into mobile phone range again? Will they be challenged by the MMO because the kit is not providing pushes with stored data to the server? How could fishermen prove the negative, that they have no signal at landing or at sea? There seems to be little understanding of this problem by the regulator nor what the MMO intends to do to quantify it so fishermen will not be harassed for a lack of signal. AIS by contrast would solve this problem, offer a low cost solution and something the fishermen have asked to be considered, it’s time fishermen were listened to on this and all other issues”.