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MMO taking a critical look at itself
The Marine Management Organisation is taking a critical look at its own performance in a number of key areas with the intention of improvement. This was the key message to emerge from the recent meeting between the NFFO and the MMO at its headquarters in Newcastle.
It is no secret that the MMO has faced turbulent times since it was established and moved to Newcastle – losing most of its staff in the process. Since then in an era of budget cuts, it has struggled to demonstrate to the fishing industry that it is on top of the job.
The meeting, the latest in a series of regular discussions between the Federation and the MMO, covered an extensive agenda.
The Federation had previously submitted an extensive list of problems to the MMO detailing problems faced by fishermen in using the new electronic logbooks. These include technical and operational difficulties associated with the system itself, as well as practical operating issues and the industry’s ability to adapt to the new system. During the meeting, the Federation expressed concern that the promised e-log user group had not been set up yet to address the many practical problems faced by users of the system.
The MMO revealed that after receiving the NFFO list it had subsequently appointed external auditors to review its e-log system. The audit is intended to identify a comprehensive list of the main problem areas, with a view to fixing them quickly. The NFFO/MMO user group will be set up shortly after the Auditors have reported and will address issues identified by the audit. Whilst it was made clear that “there is no going back” to the paper logbook, MMO accepted that it had a duty to ensure that new system met minimum standards of functionality, proportionality and reasonableness. It was accepted that the problems were at their most acute in the 12m-15 segment of the fleet.
The Federation has been critical of the (ministerial) decision not to take advantage of the available exemption from the EU requirement to use e-logs for day boats operating wholly within territorial limits. This exemption is being used by almost all other member states and if taken advantage of in the UK, would have allowed a breathing space to allow for effective implementation. To this degree the Government had brought many of its e-log problems on its own head by rushing headlong into the new technology.
The Federation also heavily criticised the suggestion that fishermen should pay for a major software upgrade – the result of a change in specifications to comply with the EU Control Regulation – so early in the history of e-logs. MMO agreed to give the issue further consideration.
It was agreed that for the future, both the MMO and the fishing industry would benefit from a close working relationship on the e-log system, and that establishing a user-group, with representation from the main fishing areas and fleet segments, was a priority. The NFFO will assist in setting up this group.
The Federation was updated by the MMO on progress towards a low-cost inshore Vessel Monitoring System based on mobile phone technology. It is hoped that a spec will be defined by the end of August, with type approval being granted to the two suppliers (so far) who have expressed an interest so far. In the meantime practical trials are being held. Formal introduction will be on 1st January 2014.
It is clear that IFCAs are likely to make use of this new technology for managing access to zoned areas within marine protected areas but also, for some, as a condition for access to the IFCA district.
The Federation commented that the new technologies offered much in terms of more effective management and potentially a reduction in the regulatory burden on fishing vessels. However, the industry would rebel if the new technologies were only used to transfer the cost burden of fisheries management to the industry. If society wants, as is increasingly the case, to have a say in the conditions under which fish are produced, then it must pay a proportionate share of the costs of management.
Vessel position data produced by the new technologies can be very powerful and important in defending fishing grounds from encroachment by other marine users. But it can also undermine commercial confidentiality and be employed in a Big Brother way. It was agreed therefore that the NFFO and the MMO will work on protocols on how to strike the right balance between data protection issues and legitimate uses for the data.
The Federation voiced its concerns that the import of American style hard legal tactics by some environmental organisations threatened to undermine the collaborative approach that both the fishing industry and MMO/Defra aspire to and consider essential both for environmental protection and the wellbeing of the fishing industry as a network of MPAs is established.
European Fisheries Fund
Fishermen are becoming increasingly frustrated by difficulties in the process of claiming grants from the EFF to the extent that they are giving up trying. The MMO was advised by the Federation that disproportionate bureaucratic hoops faced in trying to access funding for eligible purposes is leading fishermen, especially those at the smaller end of the fleet, to give up the attempt. This defeats the purpose of the EFF.
The MMO acknowledged that there have been problems but suggested that the main difficulties were the very rigid European rules designed to prevent fraud. Both the NFFO and MMO agreed that every effort should be made to reduce the disproportionate paperwork associated with relatively small EFF applications. It was agreed that the MMO would review its own procedures and staffing levels to remove any home grown obstacles, whilst at the same time petitioning Brussels for a more user friendly system.
Discard Ban, Quota Management and Enforcement in the Future
The meeting acknowledged that the impending discard ban (in 2014 for pelagic fisheries, and 2016-2019 for demersal fisheries) will amount to one of the most significant changes to the way fisheries are managed across the EU for a generation. It was also recognised that the obligation to land all catches of quota species would require significant change in the areas of MMO responsibility, including enforcement, catch recording, quota management, international and domestic quota swaps and transfers. At the moment much was unclear about how the landings obligation would work in practice.
One important question under consideration by the MMO is whether pool monthly catch limits will continue to work with the amount of quota flexibility envisaged by the CFP Basic Regulation ( year on year flexibility to bank and borrow quota and the facility to count a by-catch species against a target species).
The NFFO confirmed that the regional quota management meetings (for under-10m and over-10m non sector quota pools) had significantly improved the sensitivity and responsiveness of the MMO’s quota management in this area.
It was agreed that the NFFO and MMO would work together on these questions with Defra and the regional advisory councils to ensure a smooth transition as possible to the new system.
This was a useful and constructive meeting in which problem areas were identified and discussed thoroughly. The MMO accepted that there was significant room for improvement in a number of operational areas and the discussions focussed on a collaborative approach to resolving the problems.