Belfast Telegraph

Row over new fishing boat device

New satellite devices to track the position of fishing vessels from Northern Ireland will complicate the regulatory burden on fishermen, it has been claimed.

The equipment, which will transmit the locations of boats every two hours, is being fitted to around 120 boats as part of European safety regulations.

The devices, each costing £1,500, will start to be installed next month.

Fish producer Dick James said: "I want to see greater collaboration and people looking at all the different systems in place to see if we can simplify the process."

In an extension of previous requirements, vessels over 12 metres in length will be kitted out with tracking devices which transmit their position every two hours to the authorities.

Larger boats already have the technology and this money will pay for at times unreliable devices to be replaced.

Mr James is chief executive of the Northern Ireland Fish Producers' Organisation, which represents vessel owners.

"It is bringing a new raft of boats into the system, the system is more efficient and better tuned to use in small boats," he said, but added they were carrying several different pieces of equipment for various functions.

"They are all using the same technology and the question we have is why cannot you amalgamate these four units into one which would do all these functions?

"The problem is that everybody that wants this is wanting their own particular thing and working to their own standards."

Fisherman Trevor McKee chairs the fish producers' organisation and said the renewal of ageing systems in older boats could cut the cost of communicating ships' positions.

"They have taken a bit of time over this new system and they will be beneficial for the boats," he said.

Mr McKee, operator of a larger 23 metre vessel, said current electronic log technology was unreliable.

If it failed, fishermen had to use satellite equipment which could cost up to £280 for one message.

The mobile phone signal is poor in the Irish Sea.

According to the Marine Management Organisation, European regulations require that devices automatically transmit the vessel's identity, speed and course, most recent position and date and time that position was fixed.

Mr McKee said: "Hopefully it will cut running costs.

"We are having to send it by satellite phone and it is costing a fortune but now it is going to be combined with the vessel's monitoring system so hopefully that will be a cost-saving exercise for once.

"All the stuff they put in normally we are grant aided for but it is like giving a grant to a hangman for buying a new rope, you are getting money for it but all you are doing is hanging yourself at the end of the day (because of the running cost)."

A total of £200,000 will be available through Michelle O'Neill's Agriculture and Rural Development Department, most of the money coming from the European Union.

Sinn Fein marine spokesman in the Republic Martin Ferris said: "When there is an accident at sea, the time it takes to find a vessel is crucial and so it is important that every method available is used to improve safety in the fishing industry."

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