The North Sea, the Northwest Atlantic, the Northeast Pacific, the Bering Sea, the Mediterranean, much of the African coast, much of the coast of South America. The list is a compilation of regions with fisheries in varying states of difficulty. The breadth and global scope of the problem will require a high degree of international cooperation to restore and to assure the health and the sustainability of the natural resource which provides a significant portion of our food supply.
The fact that so many world fisheries are currently in a threatened state is the result of that well documented phenomenon of overfishing. This is caused by the increasing capacity to find and to catch fish stocks which, even under good management are subject to changes in abundance caused by environmental factors. The principal tools at the service of fisheries managers in their efforts to counter overfishing and to protect the stocks are the use of quotas and limitations on fishing effort. While such weapons are theoretically potent, the problem is that no matter how diligent and able the management is in imposing limitations on catch and effort, resources for enforcing those limitations, measured in assets such as personnel, patrol vessels and patrol aircraft, are inadequate.
There seems to be a consensus that Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) is one of the keys to redressing this situation. When fisheries managers have timely and accurate knowledge of the movements of fishing vessels, their material resources are in effect increased by the corresponding improvement in the efficiency of their operations. Although VMS schemes established on national and regional levels are admirable initiatives, it must be recognized that, due to the increasing mobility of the worlds fishing fleets, the problem is global.
There exists a desire amongst the worlds fisheries managers to co-ordinate their efforts so that the worlds fish stocks - which recognize no national or regional boundaries - can be saved. In order to do so, there will have to be agreement on the methods for implementing VMS on a very detailed level. Only when, for example, a fisheries manager in South America agrees with a fisheries manager in Europe on VMS performance, security and data formats, will a vessel be able to operate under the management of both, moving from one fishery to another both legally and with maximum transparency. Furthermore, only within such a context can the two fisheries managers share data on vessel movements and activities, in order to improve operations on an international scale.
Probably the only way to foster this compatibility is to establish a consultation at the widest possible international level so that fisheries protection officials can express their requirements, preferences and concerns on VMS implementation. This information would form the basis for a world standard in VMS. For many reasons, logistical, political and economic alike, this has not yet been achieved.
If an international standard did exist, then fisheries managers from all regions of the world would be able to set a common goal. Some consensus on VMS implementation, however, might provide some welcome, temporary direction. This may not be enough to keep everyone on the same track, but could be sufficient to keep them moving in the same direction.