Comprehensive guidelines for implementing effective vessel monitoring systems

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As we strive to protect and maintain our ocean ecosystems, implementing effective Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) has become crucial for ensuring sustainable fishing practices. These systems play a vital role in monitoring vessel activities, tracking fishing locations, and promoting responsible fishing practices, all of which are essential for the long-term health of our marine resources. In this article, we will discuss the key components of an effective VMS and provide practical recommendations for successfully integrating these systems into fishing operations.

Selecting the right technology for effective vessel monitoring systems in sustainable fishing practices

The first crucial step in implementing an effective Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) is selecting the appropriate technology tailored to your specific needs. A comprehensive Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) comprises various components, such as tracking devices, airtime services, and additional data feeds, which work in harmony to ensure seamless functionality.

  1. Effective VMS units: VMS units are installed on vessels and utilize satellite and/or GSM networks to transmit positional information and alerts. They can also relay data from onboard devices to the Fishing Monitoring Centre (FMC) software. When choosing a VMS unit, consider factors such as installation, servicing, and pricing, ensuring it aligns with your specific requirements. Look for features like a panic button for emergency alerts in critical situations to enhance the functionality of your VMS.
  2. Airtime services: Effective VMS units require a subscription to data plans for transmitting data. Depending on factors like cellular coverage, fleet characteristics, and cost considerations, data plans can be satellite-only, GSM/GPRS-only, or hybrid. It’s important to note that satellite costs have become more competitive, making hybrid units not necessarily more cost-effective than satellite-only units. Airtime providers typically offer plans based on volume, considering the number of units and data consumption.
  3. AIS positional data: Automatic Identification System (AIS) data can complement VMS data or serve as an alternative monitoring system. AIS data feeds are available as a monthly paid service, which can enhance the effectiveness of your VMS implementation by providing additional positional information and insights.

Scalability, flexibility, and integration 

When implementing a VMS, it is essential to choose a system that is easily scalable and offers no restrictions in terms of integrating units from different providers. This ensures that the VMS can grow and adapt to the changing needs of the client while accommodating diverse vessel monitoring technologies. In addition to data security, focus should be on the system’s ability to be customized and flexible to include additional features that meet the client’s specific requirements, leading to streamlined monitoring, improved efficiency, and effective support for sustainable fishing practices and adherence to evolving regulatory requirements.

Establishing clear protocols and procedures

Establishing comprehensive protocols and procedures is essential for ensuring the effectiveness of a vessel monitoring system (VMS). To achieve this, it is crucial to develop thorough guidelines for data collection, transmission, and analysis within the VMS framework. Clearly defining the roles and responsibilities of each stakeholder, including vessel operators, monitoring centres, and enforcement agencies, promotes smooth coordination and compliance with regulations. By implementing robust protocols and procedures, the VMS can operate efficiently, facilitating effective vessel monitoring and contributing to sustainable fishing practices.

FMC software, maintenance, and support for an effective Vessel Monitoring System

The Fishing Monitoring Centre (FMC) software is the cornerstone of an effective vessel monitoring system (VMS), as it integrates information, generates insights, and ensures compliance with international regulations. Companies like Trackwell FiMS offer comprehensive FMC software solutions tailored to the unique needs of each client, including additional software modules and complementary apps.

FMC software can be hosted in both local and cloud server environments, but cloud hosting is recommended for easier and more cost-effective operation, maintenance, and compliance with data security standards.

When selecting FMC software, consider the following functionalities and modules that can enhance your VMS monitoring capabilities:

  1. Electronic Logbook (e-logbook) and Electronic Reporting System (ERS): Optional modules that integrate fishing activity information (catch data) into the FMC software. The e-logbook is an onboard app or software used to log catch information, which is transmitted to the ERS module of the FMC software via the VMS unit’s communication plan. This feature provides valuable insights into fishing activities but may increase airtime costs.
  2. Data governance capabilities: In situations where VMS systems are shared among different states or countries, complex data governance mechanisms need to be added as a fully customized solution. This ensures that each stakeholder has access only to their respective information within the system, affecting commissioning cost and maintenance.
  3. Data sharing in fisheries-specific formats, particularly FLUX (Fisheries Language for Universal Exchange): FLUX is the UN standard for data sharing in fisheries, currently being implemented as a mandatory requirement in the EU and gradually in the rest of the world. Implementing this data sharing and communications standard is highly complex and can be provided as an additional SaaS component to the FMC software.
  4. Data analysis tools: Additional data analysis tools can be integrated into the system upon request, such as fishing activity algorithms for fishing gear detection. These tools are based on complex algorithms and machine learning techniques, impacting both the commissioning cost when requiring new functionality to be developed and added, and license cost for previously developed functionality.
  5. Integration with existing systems: VMS should complement and enhance existing management tools, such as catch documentation schemes, fishing logbooks, and port inspections. Integrating VMS with these systems can help streamline data collection and analysis, leading to improved decision-making and enforcement capabilities.

International collaboration and harmonization

As fishing vessels often operate across national boundaries, international collaboration is essential for the effective implementation of VMS. Engage in dialogue and cooperation with neighbouring countries and regional fisheries management organizations to harmonize FVMS standards, ensuring consistency and interoperability among systems. This collaborative approach fosters the sharing of data, resources, and best practices, leading to an effective vessel monitoring system that transcends borders. By working together, countries can strengthen their efforts to combat illegal fishing, promote sustainable practices, and protect marine ecosystems.

Enhancing the effectiveness of Vessel Monitoring Systems through continuous evaluation and improvement

To maintain an effective vessel monitoring system (VMS), it is crucial to conduct regular evaluations to identify areas for improvement and ensure the system continues to meet its objectives. Engage stakeholders, including vessel operators, monitoring centres, and enforcement agencies, in the evaluation process to gather their valuable feedback. This feedback serves as a foundation for refining and adapting the system, making it more efficient, accurate, and aligned with evolving needs and regulatory requirements. By continuously evaluating and improving the VMS, you can enhance its effectiveness and contribute to sustainable fishing practices and the protection of marine resources.

Implementing an effective fisheries Vessel Monitoring System is crucial for ensuring sustainable fishing practices, safeguarding our ocean resources, and promoting safety at sea for fishermen. By following these guidelines, stakeholders can establish robust VMS that promote transparency, accountability, and compliance with fisheries regulations. As technology continues to evolve, staying up-to-date with advancements and incorporating them into VMS will help secure the long-term sustainability of the world’s fisheries and contribute to the well-being of those working at sea.

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FiMS is used by fisheries authorities, coastguards, and navies for surveillance, search and rescue, resource management, and fisheries control.

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