Government holes charter boats below the waterline

The Angling Trust spent a lot of time and effort, alongside the Professional Boatman’s association, and in conjunction with Charter Skippers from around the country, working out a protocol for them to able to start operating again. It was accepted by the DCMS and subsequently added to the advice available on the Government website. So, following this a few weeks ago some charter started to operate again. There are a number of skippers who still feel it was too early or risky for them to start operating again but most are now taking customers out again, which is great for them and great for anglers desperate to get afloat.

However, in its wisdom and as a result of a relaxing of other lockdown regulations DEFRA posted in its website new guidance which stated that taking paying customers out in pleasure boats of any kind was NOT allowed. Predictably, and rightly, this caused a great deal of confusion plus a high volume of calls to the Angling Trust who had already spotted this anomaly.

On 4th June, the Angling Trust and the Professional Boatman’s Association issued guidance to both charter boat skippers and anglers. This was fully in line with the government’s advice, issued on 1st June. It was designed to ensure people could enjoy their fishing once more and the charter boat sector, which was on its knees and had received no support from the government, were able to slowly get back to business.  This DEFRA advice of the 11th June seems to be designed to stop this industry and the vital contribution it makes to coastal economies, in its tracks.

The Angling Trust issued the following comment alongside a statement issued to the press and sent to DEFRA:

“This just doesn’t make sense.” commented Stuart Singleton-White, Head of Campaigns at the Angling Trust, “This guidance is saying that a group of anglers who hire a charter boat with a professional skipper for a days fishing, are being told that should not do so.  Yet, the same advice says they can rock up and hire a boat, without a skipper, and go fishing with their mates.  This is madness.  We have worked hard with the Professional Boatman’s Association to ensure we offer safe, responsible guidance that fully complies with social distancing as well as providing the necessary PPE requirements and hygiene measures to ensure a days fishing is both enjoyable and safe.”

According to a recent report from the New Economic Foundation on the charter vessel fleet it is estimated that there is a cumulative economic impact to Dorset from charter boat activity of £2.4 million in gross output, providing about £3.6 million in estimated economic contribution and over £1.3 million of Gross Value Added (GVA) (Williams et al. 2020 Marine Policy in press). The value of this activity in monetary terms exceeds that of the inshore commercial fishing fleet.

The advice, issued by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports (dated 1st June) was clear in its guidance concerning fishing.  It stated, “You can now go fishing but only alone, with members of your household, or with up to, but no more than 5 other people a minimum of 2 metres apart. You should always follow social distancing guidelines when encountering others.”

The new advice says for skippered day-boat hire and skippered day charter hire that, “Operators should not allow skippered day boat hire or skippered day charter boat hire.” And yet when it comes to self-drive day boat hire it says “You can hire self-drive boats or charter a bareboat for the day only.” This is a dangerous contradiction and means that a group of unqualified people can get together and take a boat out, who may not be experienced boatmen and may not know the local conditions, and once out there is no way of ensuring they follow guidance on social distancing or other measures designed to prevent the spread of the virus.  And yet, a professional skipper, who is experienced in the local conditions, has carried out all the necessary measures to ensure the boat is compliant with Covid-19 requirements and will be able to monitor and enforce measure while at sea, is prevented from doing so.

Phil Higgins from the Professional Boatman’s Association said, “We’re being kicked in the teeth.  It’s as if the government is trying to deliberately wreck our industry, or it’s simply too ignorant to care.  Charter Boat skippers have complied with the government’s advice throughout.  But because there has been no financial support for our sector, many are on the brink of bankruptcy.  We are professionals who have worked hard to ensure our boats are safe and the people who board our boats are checked for symptoms, given clear advice on what to do, and kept socially distanced throughout, and yet we are being told we cannot put to sea.”  Phil went on to say, “What hurts is while we’re stuck in harbour, losing money, a group of lads can hire a boat and put to sea.  They do not have to know the area, nor its dangers.  This ridiculous measure does nothing to prevent the spread of the virus but does everything to put people’s lives at risk.”

Let’s hope by the time you read this it will have been resolved to the satisfaction of everyone.

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