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Defra challenged over 'absurd and illogical' ban on charter boats


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The Angling Trust and the Professional Boatman’s Association (PBA) are continuing their campaign to have the ‘absurd and illogical’ DEFRA guidance outlawing the English charter boat sector overturned.

Issued on 11th June by Defra's Inland Waterways and Navigation section and entitled “COVID-19 (coronavirus): using a boat inland and on the coast”, the new guidance directly contradicts that previously issued by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) on behalf of the government which allows up to six people from different households to meet outside.

On 1st June the government decreed:

“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.” [DCMS GUIDANCE]

Yet a few days later, and after charter boats had put to sea, Defra announced:

“Operators should not allow skippered day boat hire or skippered day charter boat hire.”

Yet they sought no such restrictions on self-drive day boat hire saying:

“You can hire self-drive boats or charter a bareboat for the day only.” [DEFRA GUIDANCE]

Despite meetings and lengthy correspondence, Defra officials are refusing to budge. This prompted the Angling Trust and the PBA to join forces with Scuba Diving groups, who are similarly affected, in sending a joint letter to the Environment Secretary George Eustice pointing out that the restrictions are not only unreasonable but have little basis in law and could leave his department open to legal challenge by skippers for damage to their businesses.

In their joint letter they said:

“As you must be aware, your continuing guidance is directly causing serious losses to the charter boat industry, to associated business, and to anglers, divers and others who wish and in many cases have booked to use them. Yet it appears to have no basis in law and appears to have been made on an error of fact which you should not have made, and undoubtedly are now aware of.

"We have sought at all times to work with the departments of government, to support and encourage compliance with law and guidelines in these difficult times. We still wish to do so, but we cannot ignore the unjustified damage which your guidance is doing to our members, and an industry we represent. We very much hope that we do not have to examine more closely the legal remedies which may be open to those we represent, and others currently being harmed.”

Phil Higgins from the PBA added:

“The intransigence of Defra is causing real economic damage and hardship and they should just update their illogical and absurd guidance of June 11th which looks increasingly bizarre when pubs, restaurants and campsites are about to open up. The income generated by our sector brings much needed revenue to local shops and tourism.

"We have produced COVID compliant guidelines for our sector and, as we say in our letter to George Eustice, there can be few activities more ‘outdoors’ than spending a day on an open boat.”

Martin Salter, Head of Policy at the Angling Trust, said:

“We do not believe that there is a justifiable legal basis for allowing day boat hire and at the same time unreasonably restricting professional charter boat skippers from conducting their businesses to responsible COVID compliant guidelines. As long as they have the necessary insurance, and can maintain social distancing amongst their clients, our recommendation to skippers is that they should continue to put to sea. Hopefully common sense will prevail and we won’t have to resolve these matters in a court of law.”

Copy of joint letter sent to Environment Secretary George Eustice

Covid-19 best practice guidelines for Charter Boats, issued by the Angling Trust and Professional Boatman's Association

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