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Vessel Monitoring Systems -VMS

Updated on January 3, 2011

VMS - Vessel Monitoring Systems

This page has information on Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS). VMS technology allows commercial fishing boats to communicate with shore while allowing regulators to track the vessel's movements from port to the open ocean and back.

VMS systems use electronic transmitters to transmit information about the vessel's position via satellite.

What is a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS)?

A VMS system uses electronic transmitters, placed on fishing vessels, that transmit information about the vessel's position to enforcement agencies via satellite. This allows someone on land, monitoring such transmissions, to determine if a vessel is in a closed area.

There are several factors related to the implementation of VMS, including the variety of equipment types and associated costs, vessels' ability to carry VMS, VMS operating

requirements, vessel coverage, and collaboration with traditional enforcement techniques.

VMS Reimbursement Program

In 2008 NOAA Fisheries Service announced revisions of the VMS Reimbursement Program. Grant funds are now available to eligible vessel owners/operators who have purchased a VMS unit to comply with fishery regulations requiring the use of a VMS unit. The funds will be used to reimburse owners/operators for the purchase price of the VMS unit up to $3,100.

In the Northeast Region, the reimbursement program extends to the following implementations: Framework 17 to the General Category Scallop FMP; Framework 42 to the Multispecies FMP; Framework 1 to the Surfclam/Ocean Quahog FMP; and Amendment 11 to the General Category Scallop FMP.

VMS units activated prior to July 5, 2006 are not longer eligible for reimbursement. Call the VMS Support Center at 1-888-219-9228 to verify eligibility. Information is also available on the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission website at

Scallop Poacher Convicted Based on VMS Evidence

A ruling against a New Bedford, Massachucetts fishing vessel and its captain was the first federal fisheries prosecution based exclusively on vessel-tracking data gathered by the satellite-based Vessel Monitoring System, reported the National Marine Fisheries Service.

U.S. Coast Guard Administrative Law Judge Edwin M. Bladen assessed a $250,000 fine and ordered the permanent revocation of the federal fishing permit of the fishing vessel Independence, owned by Lobsters, Inc., and the federal vessel operator permit of its captain, Lawrence M. Yacubian, for repeatedly entering an area closed to fishing.

NOAA Fisheries uses VMS to assist in monitoring compliance with closed-area regulations under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The F/V Independence was required to carry a VMS unit. The scallop vessel was tracked by the VMS from Dec. 9 to 11, 1998, as it made several incursions into an area closed to protect spawning groundfish approximately 160 nautical miles off the coast of Massachusetts. The initial VMS report put the vessel 1.36 nautical miles inside the area. Using radar and other onboard navigational systems, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Wrangell also tracked Independence inside the area and confirmed a second incursion.

"This case sets an important precedent by holding that the VMS system in use on scallop vessels in the Northeast is an accurate, reliable technology capable of producing evidence of vessel activity admissible in a court of law," added Charles R. Juliand, lead NOAA prosecutor handling the case.

Judge Bladen found that Independence repeatedly entered the closed area located approximately 160 nautical miles off the coast of Massachusetts. The judge also stated that, together with a significant monetary penalty, the removal of intentional violators would send a clear and loud message to the fishing industry that purposeful and sustained incursions into closed areas will bring meaningful sanctions.

"The significance of this case was that the judge accepted VMS data as evidence that the vessel was inside the closed area," said Special Agent Louis Jachimcyzk of NOAA Fisheries Office for Law Enforcement, case agent for the IF/V Independence investigation. "This type of information had never been used, on its own, to prove a closed-area case."

photo credit:

Vessel Monitoring Systems in Commercial Fishing

"We are increasingly relying on satellite technology to monitor fishing near closed areas, and this decision supports the hard work that NOAA Fisheries enforcement agents put in to protect marine fisheries for honest fishermen." - Bill Hogarth, former NOAA Fisheries director

photo credit: USCG

Safety Benefits of VMS

VMS can also aid in search and rescue operations. In November of 2008, F/V Costa & Corvo capsized approximately 115 miles east of Cape Cod Massachusetts.

"Fortunately for the crewmen, we were able to locate the boat using VMS and the Mary K was nearby and able to assist," said Petty Officer 1st Class Scott Leazott, a search and rescue controller from Sector Southeastern New England.

photo credit: USCG

Massachusetts Congressman Calls on Coast Guard to Improve VMS

Congressman Barney Frank has urged the Coast Guard to improve the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) technology, used to track commercial fishing boats, in order to improve safety within the fishing industry.

VMS is used mainly to determine whether fishing boats are operating in areas where they are legally entitled to fish. But, fishermen have long called for the technology to also be used as a method for helping determine the location of vessels in emergency situations. When the fishing vessel Patriot sank recently with the tragic loss of its two man crew, VMS was employed in the rescue effort, but in this case the technology and procedures for using the system were found to have flaws.

In a letter to Admiral Thad Allen, Commandant of the United States Coast Guard, Frank states "The gaps in the existing capability to track vessels in emergency situations or adverse weather conditions have long been evident, and the recent tragic sinking of the Patriot with the loss of its two man crew makes it clear in my view that we need to take action to expand the safety applications of VMS as soon as possible. As you may be aware, the Coast Guard did attempt to use VMS in the Patriot rescue attempts, but it was not as effective as it could have been."

Congressman Frank went on to mention sentiments of commercial fishermen, explaining "The potential use of VMS for safety as well as enforcement purposes has been raised repeatedly by fishermen. In fact, this idea was discussed by industry representatives and Coast Guard representatives at the public fishing safety forum I convened in New Bedford in March 2007. During the discussion, Coast Guard officials suggested that the technology and procedures governing the use of VMS might need some refinements before it could be reliably used for safety purposes. Following that meeting, I proposed that the Coast Guard expand its research efforts to begin focusing specifically on safety issues, including the potential use of VMS."

photo credit: USCG

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    • Sequoia Technol profile image

      Sequoia Technol 6 years ago

      This lens was really interesting to read and brought to light information that I wasn't aware of. Great lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I think this is really a helpful and informative lens! Blessed by a Squidoo Angel on 4/8/2011. Have a great day!