£650,000 grant funds wasted due to witch hunt by public body.

The English inshore commercial fishing boat fleet are facing new concerns over regulation and improper use of public funds after the type approval of compulsory equipment was removed, requiring some of them to stop fishing immediately.

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO), a part of DEFRA, requires that by the end of 2023 all commercial fishing boats under 12 metres in length are fitted with an Inshore Vessel Monitoring Systems (I-VMS) to enable the authorities to track fishing locations. Boats operating in Wales and some the Devon area cannot fish without I-VMS due to local laws.

Over the last year, Maritime Systems has installed almost 1000 I-VMS accounting for 95% of all devices sold. The cost of £780 and the fishermen can claim this back in a grant from the Fisheries and Seafood Scheme (FASS).

£650,000 grant funds wasted due to witch hunt by public body

After the roll out was well underway, the MMO undertook independent testing of the 4 approved suppliers. (The MMO had relied upon the suppliers self-certifying their products during initial approval). All devices were found to have issues that caused them to fail the specification for approval.

However, only Maritime Systems has been singled out with revocation of the type approval for their I-VMS device. Two others have been allowed to fix their issues, and one has declined from continuing in the project due to lack of sales.

MMO Chief Executive Tom McCormack said “We absolutely needed to take action in response to a supplier who has been selling I-VMS devices to fishers that have significant failures against the agreed device specifications.”

Testing revealed only one failed feature on the Maritime Systems Device, a fault shared by other manufacturers devices, in that when submerged 1 metre underwater for 30 minutes, a small amount of water worked its way through the outer casing. According to Maritime Systems this is easily rectified.

GMV, the independent tester hired by the MMO, reported that the Maritime Systems device excelled in all other areas tested by them. Their test report shows that one test was voided because of a problem with the device not responding to their test equipment. After consultation with Maritime Systems this issue was resolved, but the test has not been repeated.

James Glover, Managing Director of Maritime Systems commented, “We have concerns with the test report. One of GMV tests states that we need to send a message from the device when we lose mobile phone reception, but this is not possible as there is no mobile phone reception to the send the message on. Also, in the voided GPS reception test that the MMO are holding us accountable for, it was not clear if the issue was within our system or the MMO THEMIS computer system.”

THEMIS is the software used by the MMO to display data collected by the I-VMS devices and is developed by one of the other manufacturers Fulcrum Maritime.

James Glover adds, “At the start of the project, integrating with the UK VMS Hub was challenging due to their outdated software protocols and it was made aware to us that Fulcrum Maritime was able to interface directly with their server. Prior to the GNV testing, in almost a year of operation, the MMO had never made us aware that there may be a problem with the receipt of our status codes regarding the number of GPS satellites.”

Suppliers were originally made aware of the issues in March and asked to provide a proposal on how to rectify their issues. Since submitting its proposal to the MMO in March, Maritime Systems had regularly asked the MMO if they required any more information, but never received a reply.

On Thursday 18th May, without consultation, the MMO revoked Maritime Systems Type Approval due to lack of detail in the proposal, and was provided 20 hours to submit a new response, stating that it would be a “high bar for us to reconsider the revocation”.

After submission of a more detailed plan, the MMO has upheld the ban, citing only 2 reasons based upon the wording and descriptions, including that a proposed solution was not evidenced, when Maritime Systems had stated it had been used on military vessels for over 8 years.

“This is a clear witch hunt by senior management at the MMO”, James Glover has told his customers, “Other suppliers are allowed to fix their devices, yet the MMO won’t even have a fair discussion with me.” “During the Teams meeting on Thursday I asked for the meeting to be recorded, as we always do, yet they attempted to talk me out of it, saying that there was nothing contentious expected, yet in the next sentence they revoked our approval leaving me financially ruined.”

“Although I had a right to reply, they released the letter of revocation to industry within minutes of the initial meeting on Thursday ending, meaning I had to deal with information requests from my customers, when I should have been spending the short time I had preparing a response to the MMO.”

MMO Chief Executive Tom McCormack has confirmed “that fishers will be financially supported to secure suitable, replacement devices.” amounting to approximately £650,000 extra funding.

This is funding that could have been spent supporting fishermen at a time when their livelihood is seriously challenged by low fish stocks, Brexit and the cost of living.

James Glover explains “They will be wasting money to replace functioning equipment with devices from alternative suppliers. Their claims for the removal are farcical, and we could have easily answered their concerns. I am not exaggerating when I say that a 5 minute conversation on Friday would have saved £650,000 of public money and 100’s of hours of civil servants work.”

“This is clear abuse of public spending, and not in the public interest. £650,000 is being wasted just because of a personal dislike to me by MMO officials. I have the backing of the fishermen, who all agree this is a farcical position, and clear abuse of the MMO powers. The smaller fishermen are normally ignored as there are not enough of them to get heard. Even front page stories in Fishing News don’t make it to main stream media.”

“I am willing to extend an olive branch to them, if they will reconsider. This is all completely unnecessary. I believed in their good will, and that we were partners in making this project a success.”

The fishing industry is calling for fair regulation with many feeling that they are being forced out of a livelihood by new requirements with MCA vessel surveys and medicals. Fishermen claim to have been told by directly by their MPs that they won’t raise concerns in parliament due to the small number of constituents it affects.

The I-VMS rollout continues, although the Inshore fishermen are now left with a choice of only 2 devices, Fulcrum Maritime’s Nemo and Succorfish SC2. Previous fishermen have received large fines after a previous version of the Succorfish SC2 had operational issues and there is concern over the limited choice of devices.

The MMO won’t allow Satlink Nano into compete either. The MMO contacted them on Thursday 18th May to ask if they would like to remain in the I-VMS program. Not realising that Maritime Systems had been revoked, they declined. When learning the main competitor was removed, Satlink Nano asked the next day to remain as an approved supplier, but was refused.

Questions need to be asked if the MMO is operating with the best use of public funds, or are they allowing personal prejudice to prevent the fishermen getting the best deal.

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