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What is a Vessel Monitoring System?

By Marlene Garcia
Updated May 23, 2024
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A vessel monitoring system (VMS) consists of an electronic device that keeps track of the position, speed, and course of vessels regulated by fishery management centers in national and international waters. These monitoring, control, and surveillance devices use satellite tracking to manage fishing operations, protect resources, and discourage illegal fishing. A vessel monitoring system provides an auditing method to keep an eye on commercial fishing boats.

The vessel monitoring system surveys regional fishing in waters where the boat is registered and fishing for migratory fish that move from one region to another. A VMS can also follow a vessel through restricted waters where fishing is banned. The device might determine if illegal fishing takes place by recording how long the vessel remains in restricted water.

Selected fishing boats may receive permission to pass through restricted areas to reach legal fishing zones. Other areas do not permit entry into certain waters. Fisheries management centers can regulate illegal fishing by auditing ships that enter protected waters, with or without permission. The boat's speed might indicate whether the vessel is simply passing through these waters or fishing.

A global positioning system tracks the vessel's position at regular intervals. An antenna, transmitter, receiver, and computer transmit information to the center responsible in specific zones. Agencies supervise fishing activities in several regions, ranging from Antarctica to European waters.

For example, the European Union requires a vessel monitoring system on boats larger than 49 feet (15 meters). Members of this management agency regulate fishing on vessels that fly the flag of an individual country, and also vessels from other countries if they enter sovereign waters within defined boundaries. A fishing boat that meets these criteria may not leave port without a VMS on board.

The Pacific Islands Forum is an agency responsible for tuna fishing in exclusive economic zones, which extend 200 miles (322 kilometers) from the coast of a country. Each member country makes independent decisions on fishing licenses, but they all contribute to regional efforts to manage the tuna population. The Pacific Islands Forum serves as an advisory agency to provide support and offer expertise to its members. Vessel monitoring systems in this region help estimate the tuna population by tracking fishing boats.

Some boats are equipped with a vessel monitoring system capable of reporting daily or weekly catches. This software is required by some fishing management centers. They might mandate that the number and type of fish caught be reported upon entering jurisdictional waters, when landing at port, and upon exit. The electronic devices may also help in search and rescue operations via the vessel's last reported position and intended course.

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