It is not possible to produce a definitive cost benefit study for all potential VMS implementations. The circumstances may vary substantially for particular fisheries. There are many issues which will have an effect on cost benefit, including:
It is possible to take a broad view of the cost benefit of VMS and suggest an approach and some arguments for a cost benefit evaluation. The key question which must be addressed is what constitutes effective management and MCS for a fishery. Having answered this question it is then possible to evaluate whether effective management is being achieved. In the global scenario, the evidence of falling wild fish catch and the failure of major fisheries would suggest that effective management is not being achieved in many cases.
It can be argued that effective management is not possible unless outputs are quantifiable and measurable. In fisheries management terms this means measuring the quantity of fish being caught and identifying the place where the fish are caught. VMS has no solution to the former although it can be used as a means of communicating relevant information. VMS clearly makes it possible to improve the data in relation to the location of fish catches. Catch location and size has largely been provided by vessel operators in the past and has been notoriously unreliable. The single biggest factor which has allowed unscrupulous operators to provide false information and avoid compliance with management measures has been that fishing activity takes place out of view of the management agency or anyone other than the vessel crew. VMS provides relatively reliable and accurate information on the location of vessels and, with a reasonable degree of probability, where fishing activity takes place. VMS is the first practical means of collecting and using such information about all vessels, in the history of fisheries management.
VMS is not the only means to effective management, it is one of several MCS measures and must be used in conjunction with other MCS measures for itself to be effective. A mix of MCS measures will probably be the most appropriate and effective means of achieving effective management.
Some comparison may need to be made against other types of monitoring. One approach to this is to estimate the cost of each type of monitoring against achieving the previously established effective management standard. Types of monitoring that are available include vessel, aircraft, on board observers or VMS. Comparing these different types of monitoring is not comparing like with like since each will have differing monitoring capabilities and levels of effectiveness. The cost of each in meeting all of the requirements can be estimated. The costs and capabilities can then be evaluated against all of the MCS requirements. If effective management has, as one of its MCS requirements, universal monitoring of all vessels in the fishery at all times VMS will have a significant cost advantage as the cost of patrol craft and observers will be very high. However, the degree to which unlicensed vessels (i.e. non-VMS participants) are a factor will have a commensurate effect on the applicability of VMS. Universal use of VMS is highly desirable in terms of the effectiveness of VMS.
The value of the fishery in economic, social and ecological terms should determine how much funding should be available but in reality the level of funding will mostly be determined by political factors. Obtaining the best return on the MCS dollar is critical in a limited funding situation. VMS is highly attractive in this situation particularly if some form of cost recovery can be used to at least cover the cost of the equipment used on board vessels. VMS is attractive because of its low cost. It is possible to set up a monitoring station and establish a VMS system for as little as $US50,000 plus staffing costs. Per vessel costs of $US5,000 for establishment and less than $US1,000 per annum for ongoing costs are also possible.
Another potential argument for the cost benefit of VMS is that through its complete coverage of all vessels in a fishery it will provide more information on the status of MCS effectiveness and also make possible changes in fisheries management rules which may not have been prudent or practical previously. For example, it may be possible to extend fishing seasons or reduce area closures. This could add to the sustainable economic returns from the fishery.
Increasingly, states are making authorisations to fish in waters under their national jurisdiction and on the high seas conditional on the vessel being fitted with VMS and reporting to a monitoring station. Coastal states which apply these measures to national and foreign fishing vessels licensed to fish in their EEZs, can monitor the activities of such vessels very effectively and economically, thereby increasing the effectiveness of their MCS. On the other hand, flag states which take such measures for vessels authorised to fish on the high seas, can ensure that such vessels do not violate the jurisdictions of coastal states. The establishment of VMS is the most effective means of an administration exercising its responsibilities as a flag state in respect of monitoring its fishing vessels. These responsibilities have been laid down in various international fisheries agreements and the extent to which VMS can assist in implementing these agreements is dealt with in Appendix 1.
These guidelines have concentrated on the merits of VMS for fisheries administration and management. Nevertheless, the shipboard equipment used in VMS is generally satellite communications equipment and the advantages of the improved reliability of this new system of communication to the crew in terms of safety (GMDSS) and general information should not be underestimated. The evidence of the importance of this development to the fishing industry is the fact that in 1996, 2,000 fishing vessels were fitted with satellite communications systems - by 1998 this figure had increased to nearly 7,500 fishing vessels. This exponential increase in the number of fishing vessels fitted with satellite communications equipment will mean that most large fishing vessels will be fitted with the shipboard equipment required to report to a VMS within the next few years. It is important that these communications systems are seen in their wider context of their importance to the fishing industry, particularly in increasing safety at sea and increasing the reliability of communication between ship and shore. VMS is only one of the benefits that this emerging technology will have on the fishing industry and on fisheries management and administration.