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An Exhaustive Review of Vessel Monitoring Technologies

December 6, 2012

A graphic explaining VMS.

MCI has a great document on remote sensing technologies and evaluates them for their application to remote MPA enforcement. Very interesting report all around; I’ve not seen a comprehensive take on vessel monitoring technologies such as this before. The usual VMS, EMS, and AIS technologies are covered, and so are radar, optical sensing, and much more.

I read this report with a view towards the application of these technologies not to remote MPAs, but coastal fisheries in the developing world. Thus, range wasn’t as much a consideration as was cost.

I particularly liked how MCI framed this as part of a broader discussion on enforcement, that separate studies of how to integrate these technologies into existing enforcement regimes and how to generally improve compliance among fishermen are needed. I’d add to that the consideration of a study on data management. A recent Environmental Law Institute (ELI) paper pointed out quite well how poorly marine enforcement data is managed in the U.S., making it of little use to law enforcement assessment.

Here I’ll follow with quotes of my favorite parts. (Apologies for the odd formatting; I can’t seem to remove the formatting from the original PDF text).

On the strengths and weaknesses of VMS technology:

VMS units cost approximately US$1000‐4000 each with operating costs of a few hundred dollars a year; this relatively low cost and ease of operation has facilitated its widespread use. The cost to operating agencies for a Fisheries Monitoring Centre (FMC), which typically exists at the national or RFMO level, is between US$50 000 –500 000. The VMS data are usually only reported to the vessel’s flag State or the EEZ coastal State, and few arrangements exist for data sharing. The South Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency and recently the EU are exceptions to this rule. In areas beyond national jurisdiction, enforcement of VMS regulations is the responsibility of flag states, though this may be administered through the RFMOs.

VMS itself only monitors the position, and in some cases speed, while saying nothing about vessel activity (newer processing software can infer, but not verify, some types of fishing activity). Most potential violations detected by VMS need to be corroborated by direct observation (e.g. enforcement patrols or shipboard observations). This is especially true in areas with more complex regulations (e.g. certain types of fishing allowed but not others). VMS data has been integrated with other information such as electronic catch reports, boarding and inspection information, permanent vessel data and so on, by fisheries management agencies at the national or RFMO level. While this combined approach is useful, the variety of data types and formats makes information sharing more difficult, and can raise potential confidentiality‐related issues.

Despite its capabilities, VMS does not help with IUU fishing; as it is a cooperative system, and does not monitor non‐participating  vessels.  Vessels  can  also  evade  VMS  regulations  by  registering  with  states  which  do not require its use, are not members of RFMOs that require its use, or which require VMS use but lack the will or capacity to  enforce  regulations.  Vessels  may  also  tamper  with  their  VMS  and  disable  the  equipment,  jam signals, or broadcast false position data. In response, some states (such as the US) regulate the types of VMS unit permitted,  allowing  only  ‘tamper‐resistant’  models.  To overcome  the  problems  associated  with  alse signal transmission, the EU’s Galileo satellite navigation system (similar to the GPS) will use encrypted signals so that it will be more difficult to ‘fool’ Galileo‐based VMS.

Though GPS coverage is continuous, VMS units typically report vessel position to the FMC every 1‐2 hours. The low reporting rate can complicate enforcement as a two hour window can be sufficient for fishing vessels to make quick illegal forays into restricted areas. At bottom‐trawling speed, in two hours a vessel could pass as far  as  5.6  nautical  miles  (nm)  inside  a  restricted  area  undetected,  resulting  in  a  need  for  extensive  ‘buffer zones’ of 6 NM or more around sensitive areas. A simple increase  in  reporting  rate  would  greatly ameliorate this problem.. At a cost on the order of US$0.07 per transmission, increasing reporting rate from once per 2 hours to once per 0.5 hours would increase annual operating costs by ~ US$500, from US$168 to US$672 per vessel.

Why EMS is generally better than on-board observers:

EMS equipment is fairly rugged and reliable, and can provide continuous recording of vessel shipboard activity. One great drawback is that EMS does not provide real‐time information; the volume of data generated is too large to transmit, so recordings must be retrieved and examined after a vessel returns to port. Nonetheless, EMS can act as a deterrent and has some advantages over at‐sea human observers… The  logistical  requirements  for  a  vessel  to  carry  EMS  are  simple  –  a  small amount of deck space and a power source, as opposed to a berth on the ship. Finally, EMS is approximately one  third  of  the  cost  of  an  observer;  for  example,  in  the  British  Columbia  ground‐fish  fisheries,  EMS  costs ~$150 per sea‐day, discounting up‐front equipment costs, versus ~$550 for an observer. However, while EMS is less costly than human observers, its cost is still considerable. At $8000‐10 000 for installation and $150 per sea‐day per vessel, the cost of widespread EMS implementation and operation could be millions of dollars…Depending on  the activity being monitored, processing times range from 10‐60% of actual activity time. While this is more efficient than on‐board observers, a large number of staff hours would be needed to process EMS data from a large fleet. Furthermore, unlike for satellite imagery (see below) the manpower required will increase more or less in direct proportion to number of vessels monitored.

A good discussion on the legal challenges of EMS is also in the report.

Why AIS is better than VMS, though it comes with limitations:

Originally intended to  help  avoid  ship collisions, AIS has a far higher reporting rate than other systems like VMS, from once every 6 minutes down to every 2 seconds. However, its range is currently limited to ~20‐100 nm (but see spaced‐based AIS below).

Like VMS, AIS is a cooperative system, with all the difficulties that entails. However, AIS has the weight of an international  body  and  convention  behind  it.  Under  regulation  19  of  chapter  V  of  the  Safety  of  Life  at  Sea (SOLAS)  Convention,  the  IMO  requires  all  ships  above  300  gross  tonnes  to  carry  AIS  class  A  transponders 16  (smaller vessels may voluntarily carry class B AIS transponders, which transmit less information than class A transponders but still including position, vessel type and identification, speed and heading). Approximately 70 000 ships worldwide are equipped with class A AIS. The cost of AIS ranges from US$600 for a class B unit to US$5000 or more for a class A unit 17, considerably less than when AIS use was first mandated.

Thus  far,  there  has  been  fairly  little  interest  in  the  use  of  AIS  for  remote  monitoring,  due  to  two  major limitations. First, relatively few non‐merchant vessels are required to carry AIS – less than 1% of the estimated 1.3 million decked fishing vessels worldwide are class A, AIS‐equipped. Second, the limited range of traditional AIS signals makes monitoring remote locations impractical; however strategically placed receivers can offset this limitation.


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