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Close up of a gauge used to measure the stetch mesh in the cod end of a trawl net
Close up of a gauge used to measure the stetch mesh in the cod end of a trawl net


Integrated Fisheries Monitoring (IFM) is the collection and analysis of a wide range of data from the fisheries, collected in a number of different ways. The outputs can be used for various purposes: firstly as the direct basis for management decisions, secondly as a contribution to scientific research, the results of which are fed back to management and thirdly to ensure compliance with regulations.

IFM encompasses Monitoring, Control and Surveillance (MCS), but also includes other aspects of monitoring carried out on or by fishing vessels. In general, MCS concentrates on the activities of the individual fishing vessel, whereas IFM is concerned with the fishery as a whole. MCS seeks to identify those fishing vessels which are not compliant with management rules, whereas IFM is inclusive in the sense that it attempts to extend the monitoring function to a representative sample of the total fleet (including those not complying). The activities of the entire fleet can be monitored over a wide range of data, but this approach is not yet widespread.

IFM and MCS both make use of satellite and other communications in the form of Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS), and these systems will continue to expand in the near future. VMS monitors the position of the fishing vessel without any active input from anyone on board and that the data is automatically sent from the vessel to the monitoring centre.

However, increasingly satellite communications are being used to transmit data on catch and other variables, which requires a manual input of data by the skipper or observer on board. Such systems are vulnerable to human error and or deliberate misreporting and are thus less reliable. It should also be noted that such systems go beyond the "monitoring" function and become active "reporting" systems. This aspect of VMS might be better redefined as Fisheries Reporting Systems (FRS) as it is not related to "compliance", is more concerned with the fishery and in many cases may be voluntary reporting. A new regulation (adopted November 2006) in the European Union (EU) will lead to the replacement of existing paper-based tools at all stages of the fisheries chain (log book, landing declarations and sales notes). The electronic reporting system will be implemented for all boats over 15 metres by 2011. This conversion is expected to produce quicker, more accurate and less expensive results. Such systems have been in operation, for certain fisheries, in the United States and in Australia for some years.

Just as IFM incorporates MCS, such FRS can incorporate VMS, in that any manually input message can be configured to automatically include the VMS data. While some of the conventional tools, such as VMS, observers and on shore data collection can be extended to IFM, some such as marine and aerial patrols, and in the future satellite surveillance are specifically MCS tools and are difficult to use in the wider IFM context.

Framework for Integrated Fisheries Monitoring

The International Conference on Integrated Fisheries Monitoring, held in Sydney, Australia, 1-5 February 1999, called on FAO to develop Guidelines on Integrated Fisheries Monitoring. In order to develop a framework, under which we can tackle this subject, it is necessary to list the broad data classes that are involved in fisheries monitoring. These are:

  • conventional MCS (i.e. vessel position, authorizations and fishing activities);
  • catch (and discard) reporting;
  • fisheries science monitoring; and,
  • environmental and meteorological monitoring.

The tools that can be used to collect such data (to a greater or lesser extent) are:

  • maritime surveillance;
  • aerial surveillance;
  • onshore data collection and inspection (including logbooks and fish audits);
  • at-sea observers;
  • Vessel Monitoring Systems (including electronic logbooks); and, 
  • satellite surveillance.

Accordingly, the Guidelines for Integrated Fisheries Monitoring will have to take into account conventional methods for the collection of information, the proven technology of VMS and the emerging possibilities of satellite surveillance of fishing vessels.

Factors used in developing Integrated Fisheries Monitoring

Additional factors that shall have to be taken into account in the next decade are the increasing participation of user groups in fisheries management (i.e. co-management), the ownership of fisheries data under such regimes and the problems of confidentiality of commercially sensitive information. One of the encouraging developments is the willingness of fishers to collect and supply data to researchers, on condition that the ownership and confidentiality are assured.

Surveilling the operation of a trawl net
Surveilling the operation of a trawl net
Courtesy of NOAA/NMFS/A.M.Shimada

The tool that will have the greatest impact on Integrated Fisheries Monitoring in the next decade will be satellite communications. However it must be emphasised that most, if not all, of this impact will be achieved by the synergies of satellite communications with the other tools of MCS. The increase in efficiency of MCS systems incorporating VMS can be used to increase the effectiveness of MCS or to reduce the costs of MCS while keeping its efficiency at a similar level. In thisF respect, the costs of MCS in some developed countries are unrealistically high and not commensurate with the revenue generated by the fisheries. These linkages, with other tools, in effect means VMS cannot be dealt with in isolation.

As VMS becomes established for MCS, the various possibilities for scientific, environmental, and economic researchers will increasingly become evident and more and more data will be sought directly from the fishing vessels. Some fishing vessels will become "vessels of opportunity" being able to carry out fisheries research at a much lower cost than with dedicated research vessels and enable research data to be collected where it had previously been too expensive. Communication costs will become the limiting factor as messages become longer. In this context, it must be stressed that present costs of satellite communications are relatively low because of the very short transmission time, in the order of one or two seconds. The transmission of long messages is more expensive.


Existing practice typically requires a fishing vessel, wherever it is fishing, to report to the flag State. The flag State is then responsible for passing on the relevant vessel data to a regional body or to a coastal State when it is required by access agreements.  In the EU fishing vessels are to report to their flag States and to the EU country in which sector the vessel is fishing or to regional fisheries management organizations, NAFO or NEAFC, as appropriate. The system has been quite easily extended to non-EU countries such as Norway, Iceland, Morocco and Mauritania. There is also the concept that all data should be combined in one message (i.e. integrated) in the interests of cost saving (avoiding repetitive data such as position). The data can then be automatically filtered and transmitted to the various users of the data such as MCS, laboratories, statistical departments etc. by the Monitoring Centre.

Wherever possible the sensing and transmission of data should be automatic, to reduce the working load on the vessel personnel. It should be expected that the manual input of data (such as catch data) would increase errors in the data.

Satellite surveillance will have an impact in the future, however there is a general consensus that:

  • satellite surveillance will have to become more cost effective before it is widely adopted for MCS;
  • SATCOMMS and satellite surveillance should not be regarded as a total replacement for observers, maritime patrols or shore data collection and inspection; and,
  • the complementarity of MCS tools are vitally important to ensure a good framework for Integrated Fisheries Monitoring.

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