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John M. Davis
Compliance Officer - International
Operations Branch
Australian Fisheries Management Authority
Canberra, Australia

Davis, J.M.

Monitoring Control Surveillance and Vessel Monitoring System Requirements to Combat IUU Fishing.

Document AUS:IUU/2000/14. 2000. 13 p.


This paper examines the various elements of Monitoring Control and Surveillance (MCS) available to developed and developing countries to combat IUU fishing at the global, regional, sub regional and national levels. In particular the paper concentrates on MCS measures, which are designed to facilitate regional data sharing with a view to prevent IUU fishing at the outset. This paper recognises that the establishment of regional fisheries organisations (RFOs) is the most desirable option for implementing effective MCS measures at all levels. Examples of the Australian, Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) and Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) experience[306] are used as a backdrop in discussing various MCS measures and proposals. Specific MCS measures such as catch documentation schemes, onus of proof and Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) are reviewed, and a brief examination of new MCS technology in support of VMS is undertaken.


This paper has been prepared as one in a series of specialist background papers for the Expert Consultation on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing Organized by the Government of Australia in Cooperation with FAO, Sydney, Australia, 15-19 May 2000. It is expected that this series of papers and the expert consultation will contribute to the elaboration of an international plan of action (IPOA) to deal effectively with all forms of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, the development of which is being undertaken in accordance with a decision of the 1999 FAO Ministerial Meeting on the Implementation of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.


Both developed and developing countries are facing increasing pressure on their fisheries resources from IUU fishing. With the excess capacity in many of the worlds fishing fleets and coastal states facing further depletion of their fish resources the incidence of IUU fishing will increase in the absence of any meaningful ability to monitor and control such activity.

In many cases IUU operations rely heavily on the lack of MCS communication and coordination between countries to avoid detection and conduct ongoing operations. IUU operators also place faith in the time and difficulty associated with states reaching international agreement on matters concerning MCS, and subsequently implementing these agreements in their domestic legislation.

For MCS to be effective information on vessels owners, masters, catches, positions and infringement history must be made available to the appropriate authorities in as near to real time as possible.

This paper concentrates on those MCS measures which may be feasible in the short term (0-3 years) aimed at improving the standardisation and flow of MCS information between parties concerned over IUU fishing.

Issues relating to responsibility of nationals are discussed and it is proposed that a system be established for penalising nationals who involve themselves in IUU fishing.

In examining the issue of port state access for the purpose of landing catch, transhipping, bunkering or victualling it is recommended that countries deny access to any non-party vessel that is unable to demonstrate that it has complied with regional management arrangements.

It is recommended that Catch Documentation Schemes be developed for appropriate species to improve knowledge on the flow of international trade for catch taken from areas where regional management arrangements apply.

The issue of VMS is addressed and two existing regional fisheries management body VMS reporting models are evaluated. In the first model the regional fisheries management body has no technical involvement in VMS data management and delivery to member states. In the second model the regional management body has a direct technical involvement.

The conclusion is drawn that for more effective MCS, direct involvement of the regional management body is preferable, especially in developing countries. A global VMS model is discussed based on networking the fisheries management bodies VMS sites, and consideration is given to using the network for transfer additional data such as infringement and vessel status information.

In establishing such a network VMS standards are discussed and a proposal is made to undertake a pilot VMS project involving at least two regional fisheries bodies.


The following suggestions could be characterised as actions immediately feasible, or feasible in the short term (0-3 years) with relatively little political, legal or technical development work necessary:


1. As countries implement tighter controls over their domestic resources and high seas areas come under management arrangements through countries participating in regional management bodies IUU operations are adapting to match the more restrictive environment.

2. Industrial IUU operators utilising increasingly sophisticated fishing and communications technology to target fish and avoid detection. IUU operators are also engaging in more sophisticated deceptive practices such as increasing the depth of holding company structures, continual reflagging and regular vessel name and call sign changes. There is also evidence that the larger IUU operators are banding together to share intelligence and run counter surveillance operations.

3. At the artisanal level IUU fishers are being drawn to destructive methods such as explosive and poison fishing to gather what little resource is left in some areas.

4. To be successful MCS practices must also adapt to the current environment in order to meet the challenge of resourceful IUU operators. Traditional MCS methods, agreements, and practices should be reviewed, new relationships developed, and a greater reliance placed on rapidly developing technologies to enhance MCS efforts.

5. In terms of MCS focus there should be a clear preference towards those MCS practices which prevent IUU fishing at the outset rather than those strategies aimed largely at apprehension and prosecution. Apprehension and prosecution remain the ultimate sanction and cannot be ignored however apprehension and prosecution should be seen a necessary outcome only when other deterrent measures have failed.


6. In examining MCS at the international level it is useful to try and define some common meaning of MCS. This paper adopts the FAO definition as follows:

1) Monitoring: “the continuous requirement for the measurement of fishing effort characteristics and resource yield”;

2) Control: “the regulatory conditions under which the exploitation of the resources may be conducted”;

3) Surveillance: “the degree and types of observations required to maintain compliance with the regulatory controls imposed on fishing activities”.

7. It is should be noted that some MCS measures fall into more than one category. For example VMS could clearly fall into both the monitoring and surveillance categories of this definition as VMS is a tool designed to measure effort and to maintain compliance with regulatory controls.

8. Various international instruments exist which provide a useful framework for countries to build sub regional, regional and global MCS systems. These include:

9. Generally the MCS articles contained within these instruments should not be contentious however as discussed in the paper Integrated Fisheries Monitoring, The legal Framework[310], “there appear to be two trends in fisheries monitoring as an aspect of international regulation. The first trend, which dominates in many of the instruments currently in force, is for fisheries monitoring to be seen as important but secondary to other obligations and rights of States in the area of marine fisheries management. The provisions to do with fisheries monitoring in the bulk of international agreements are thus vague and uncoordinated and are often not well integrated into treaty framework and other related instruments and arrangements. No quality standards are established and precise information to be supplied may not be clear. The minimal attention to fisheries monitoring in the text of the Law of the Sea Convention exemplifies this trend.

10. “There is an emerging trend towards the recognition of fisheries monitoring as part of the law of international obligations with respect to responsible fishing. The FAO Code of Conduct and the FAO Compliance Agreement all provide evidence of this new trend. It is however in the Straddling/Highly Migratory Stocks Agreement that the new developments are clearest, given the coherence, clarity and precision with which fisheries monitoring issues are handled in both the main body of the treaty and in Annex 1.”

11. Several fisheries management bodies and RFOs have been, or are being established which further elaborate and implement many of the provisions set out in these international instruments. For example as this paper is being drafted, talks are under way at the sixth secession of the Multi Lateral High Level Conference (MHLC) in Hawaii. The MHLC process is expected to result a convention to conserve and manage highly migratory fish stocks in the western and central Pacific.


12. Australia like most other countries is combating threats from IUU fishing arising from a number of different sources.

13. At the time of writing, Australia had no foreign fishing access arrangements in place, nor are foreign fishing vessels allowed to land product in an Australian port without express ministerial exemption. From a foreign fishing perspective Australia’s efforts are concentrated on the prevention of foreign fishing inside the Australian Fishing Zone (AFZ), and where fishing does occur the detection and apprehension of foreign vessels.

14. On average, Australia annually apprehends and successfully prosecutes approximately 100[311] foreign fishing vessels operating inside the AFZ. However, it should be noted that there are significantly more sightings where effective responses cannot be mounted due to the size of the AFZ (3rd largest in the world), and lack of response resources in the immediate vicinity of the sighting.

15. Illegal foreign vessels apprehended inside the AFZ predominantly consist of small gill net, long line and sedentary organism gathering operations mainly conducted by nationals of neighbouring states. These boats mainly target sea cucumber, shark, trochus shell and finfish. Periodically larger industrial vessels such as pair trawlers, single trawl, and long liners of various nationalities are apprehended. In recent times, some attention has been focused on Australia’s apprehension of IUU Patagonian toothfish vessels operating in the AFZ surrounding Heard and McDonald Islands (within CCAMLR waters).

16. At the domestic level, Australia has approximately 1000 Commonwealth licensed fishermen and significantly more State licensed operators who must be monitored to ensure compliance with Commonwealth and State fisheries management arrangements. Of course Australia must also control numbers of unlicensed nationals who illegally take fish and sedentary species in both inland and offshore fisheries.


17. In Commonwealth fisheries the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) is responsible for conducting MCS activities. AFMA develops risk assessments and compliance plans for each of its managed fisheries and then acts as a coordinating agency using a mix of state based and Commonwealth assets (including defence assets) to undertake MCS.

18. MCS measures applied to Australian domestic fishers rely heavily on the use of technology and the cross auditing of catch and landing documentation with information provided electronically. In fisheries managed by the use of output controls fishers are required to lodge a prior to landing report to AFMA via telephone, radio or Inmarsat C. This report is also transmitted to fisheries officers pagers or mobile phone (using the short message service) to inform officers of the time and date of the vessels arrival in port and unloading time as well as the estimated catch of the key species. In fisheries that are subject to more than one jurisdiction, fishers are also required to lodge a pre-departure report to inform authorities which jurisdiction they are planning to fish in for the trip.

19. Fishers are also required to complete daily or shot by shot logbooks where the catch is estimated by species. On return to port a Catch Disposal Record (CDR) is completed before the fish are moved more than 50 metres from the boat. The licensed first receiver of the fish then verifies the weight of the catch by species. AFMA is currently trialing electronic scales at the dock to verify the landed catch at the time of unloading. The development of this technology is intended to ensure timely cost effective monitoring and to encourage market chain integration.

20. Fisheries officers undertake random targeted inspections of vessels at sea and in port to ensure compliance with management arrangements.

21. VMS has been implemented into several of Australia’s largest fisheries. VMS technology is then used to target aerial and at sea surveillance assets to ensure compliance but above all VMS acts as a significant deterrent to illegal operations.

22. Finally, in all cases MCS activities relating to domestic operators is conducted strictly by civil assets, while in the case of foreign operators a mix of civil and defence force assets may be employed to deter foreign IUU fishing.


5.1 Establishing RFOs

23. It would appear the establishment of RFOs provides the best vehicle for combating IUU fishing at the sub regional, regional and global level.

24. For RFOs to have the necessary tools to fully discharge their obligations as envisaged by the UNFSA it is imperative that countries (on a broad scale) adopt, ratify or agree to international instruments such as the UNFSA, the FAO compliance agreement, and the FAO Code of Conduct.

25. Where it is identified that fish stocks are coming under pressure in areas not currently covered by an existing fisheries management body or RFO, interested parties should give affect to establishing such a management body. For example the increasing numbers of vessels targeting orange roughy on the high seas in the Indian Ocean warrants attention, however the application of management arrangements may be difficult as the stock is not highly migratory nor straddling and as a result may not be covered specifically by UNFSA.

5.2 Registration of Vessels

26. Fishing operators seeking to access resources managed under an RFMO arrangement should be required to register with the RFO and provide the required information on their vessel, company, master and catches as mandated by UNSFA[312].

27. Provision should also be made for the RFO to allocate a status to the registered vessel. For example, the Minimum Terms and Conditions (MTCs) for Foreign Vessel Access[313] in FFA member countries require that a vessel has “good standing” on the FFA regional register before an FFA member country may issue a foreign fishing vessel license to take highly migratory species in areas under its own jurisdiction.

28. Good standing may be removed by the RFO (at the request of the member country/s) where a vessel has engaged in operations that breach the conditions of the member country license/permit. Removal of the good standing status renders the vessel ineligible for allocation of any license or permit in any member country jurisdiction until such time as the vessel is restored to a “good standing” status.

5.3 High Seas

29. UNFSA[314] requires flag states to issue licenses for their vessels operating on the high seas areas of an RFMO and apply terms and conditions to these licenses or permits which fulfil any subregional/regional obligations of the flag state.

30. This concept of allocating a “good standing” status should be extended to flag state vessels which fish on the high seas in an RFO area, whereby the flag state should not issue a high seas licence unless its vessel has good standing on the RFOs vessel register.

31. Taking this logic one step further, it would also be prudent for RFOs to enter into complementary agreements. A vessel which is not in “good standing” on one RFO register should also be excluded from obtaining a license for member country, or high seas operations in another RFO area of responsibility. For this to be effective an adequate information sharing process would need to be implemented between RFOs.

5.4 Sharing of Vessel Register and Infringement Information

32. As previously stated a set of common data should be agreed for exchange between RFOs with a view to establishing a more global MCS network.

33. As a minimum, information on vessels, licence holders, and masters would be networked. Vessel status “good standing” or otherwise would also be required and it should be agreed to automatically share more comprehensive information about vessel infringements.

34. Transfer of basic vessel register information, would also pre-position each RFO to commence VMS tracking as a vessel transits each RFOs area of responsibility (this will be discussed in detail in a later section on Global VMS).

35. Once a data standard is established RFOs with common interests could share information directly, or alternately sharing of information may be conducted via an acceptable 3rd party such as the FAO.


36. With IUU operators increasing the depth of company structures and continually reflagging vessels, the process of determining the flag state of ownership or control is usually a daunting task for those MCS officers involved in prosecutions. Often a vessel may be forfeited and fines paid as a result of a successful prosecution without the true flag state ever being determined by the prosecuting authorities.

37. In order to bring some element of responsibility home to the correct national level it is appropriate for states to consider action against their nationals who are successfully prosecuted for conducting IUU operations in the national jurisdiction of other states. It is also appropriate for states to consider action against their nationals for contravening the management arrangements of an RFO high seas area.

38. Where a successful prosecution action has been undertaken against their nationals, member states should consider suspension or cancellation of their nationals’ right to undertake fishing activities in areas of national jurisdiction.

39. Equally it may be appropriate for the RFO to maintain a record of convicted nationals who should not be permitted to fish on any vessel which has been issued with either a member country license, or a high seas license by any flag state.

40. As in the case of vessel registers and “good standing” this information would be networked between RFOs and their members.


41. In some instances net profits received from one IUU fishing trip can exceed the value of the vessel being used to conduct the operation. Subsequent trips only add to net profit and under these circumstances apprehension, followed by vessel forfeiture (even when combined with substantial fines) are usually internalised by the IUU operator as an operational expense[315]. Another vessel is then purchased (or the original vessel bought back) and the operation continues.

42. It has been recognised by many fisheries management bodies that this type of operation might be successfully combated at the source, in other words the incentive for undertaking the operation should be removed by cutting off market access to IUU operators in a manner consistent with World Trade Organisation (WTO) obligations.

43. In an attempt to better monitor the international flow of product and reserve market access for operators complying with regional management objectives, several RFO’s have opted to implement Catch Documentation Schemes (CDS).

44. CCAMLR member countries have implemented the most recent CDS in order to monitor the global trade in Patagonian toothfish. The CCAMLR CDS came into force on 7 May 2000 and is one of few international fisheries catch documentation schemes in place. However, there may be a trend developing in the use of such schemes. Apart from the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) scheme already in place, the Commission for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna (CCSBT) agreed in December 1999 to introduce a CDS for southern bluefin tuna.

45. At this time the effectiveness of these systems remain to be seen, however CDS can play an effective role in combating IUU operations where the market states are committed to careful scrutiny of their imports and IUU operators are unable to source significant alternate markets in non-party states.


46. One of the major obstacles to effectively controlling IUU fishing is the ability of IUU operators to register their vessels in open register non-party states and in so doing avoid the obligations imposed by member countries who operate within the conservation and management guidelines set down by the RFO.

47. Given the seriousness of this loophole it would be appropriate for RFMO members to work on the premise that any non-party vessel sighted in the RFO area is undermining the effectiveness of the RFMOs conservation measures. Working on this premise all requests from a vessel relating to unloadings of product, transhipping or bunkering and victualling should be met with refusal by the member country unless the vessel concerned can demonstrate that it has acted in accordance with the RFOs management arrangements.

48. One recent example where this has been used involved an incident in early April 2000 where AFMA received a request from two Patagonian toothfish long line vessels to access an Australian port for the purpose of bunkering and victualling. AFMA was aware that these vessels were flagged to an open register non CCAMLR member state, had been sighted in CCAMLR waters and had recently unloaded Patagonian toothfish in a non party port state.

49. Initial checks revealed that these vessels had not been prosecuted by any CCAMLR member country therefore their request for access was considered by AFMA.

50. The Fisheries Management Act 1991[316] provides that AFMA may seek any information it reasonably requires in making a decision to grant port access. In accordance with this provision the operator of the vessels was invited to demonstrate that their recently landed catch of Patagonian toothfish in the non-party port state had been taken in accordance with CCAMLR conservation measures.

51. The operator of the vessels advised they were unable to gather sufficient evidence of compliance within a timeframe where the vessels would by necessity require provisioning. As a result AFMA rejected the port access applications and the vessels were required to transit out of the AFZ by the most direct route. This type of action might prove quite effective in removing staging areas for possible IUU operations however it is reliant on complementary sub regional, regional and global arrangements otherwise it only makes IUU operations difficult as opposed to establishing a significant barrier to IUU operations.


9.1 VMS Technical Progress

52. VMS has been progressively implemented by many coastal states over the last 10 years. Compared to today’s technology the first VMS stations were basic, usually consisting of a PC or server which stored position information and a simple mapping package which displayed these reports on graphic information system (GIS). The information displayed on the GIS was then interpreted by an MCS officer and based on this physical review the MCS officer would manually pass the information to the relevant field asset for action when the need arose.

53. These systems whilst providing a quantum leap in MCS capability were labour intensive and problems were encountered in the early stages both with the VMS base station software and with vessel borne equipment being installed or configured incorrectly. Since this time technology has vastly improved and importantly, much hands on experience has been gained.

54. VMS base station equipment is now more sophisticated whilst remaining user friendly. System reliability has been significantly enhanced, and on board installations are now routine in many countries.

55. There is a reduced need for MCS operators to physically review and interpret VMS data or manually disseminate reports to field posts for action. Much of the decision making process is now handled by VMS decision engine software which will take a pre-programmed action in response to a defined event.

56. Conceptually many of the management rules and surveillance parameters of a fishery can now be defined within the system. When one of the rules are broken by a vessel the system automatically generates an alert and forwards this alert to the relevant surveillance asset or organisation via e-mail, mobile phone pager or satellite link for action.

57. VMS base stations can automatically increase or decrease vessel polling rates to give a greater degree of resolution in sensitive areas of operation (ie proximity to an exclusion zone) or save on communication costs in less sensitive areas (ie mid high seas).

9.2 Data Distribution

58. Sophisticated regional VMS hub sites have been successfully installed both in developed and developing countries with information being automatically transmitted from vessels directly to the VMS hub site which then determines the appropriate redistribution list for the position data, alerts and license information by country or organisation.

59. Data can be retransmitted even to the remotest locations in developed and developing countries via satellite in all cases, and encrypted Internet, and IDD where they exist.

60. Restricted access may be granted to organisations such as safety authorities for search and rescue purposes, while many scientific organisations are now taking advantage of real time accurate position reporting for effort analysis.

61. Obviously data sharing is an issue of great importance to vessel operators who generally hold concerns over confidentiality. These concerns are multiplied especially where position information is accompanied by real time catch reporting. In the Australian context, where it has been desirable that VMS information be shared with another party AFMA has approached Australian industry and sought their agreement in each instance.

62. In setting up any data sharing arrangement it will be necessary to demonstrate to vessel operators that the information is handled in a secure manner if compliance is to be gained in a cooperative environment. Accordingly it may be useful to develop a detailed data-sharing standard which not only defines message protocols but also prescribes the required level of security.

9.3 VMS Equipment Standards

63. One of the main issues surrounding global standardisation of VMS is the type of Automatic Location Communicator (ALC) to be used onboard the vessel and the communication medium used to deliver information generated by the ALC.

64. While many countries may use Inmarsat C equipment and delivery networks, others use a combination of ALCs and satellite delivery networks, for example Inmarsat C and Argos.

65. In establishing a global standard for VMS care should be taken not to prescribe the type of equipment or networks which must be used by operators from the outset. Rather a global VMS standard should prescribe the minimum MCS needs that any VMS equipment must meet in terms of delivering information accurately, in a realistic time frame, free of interference and in a secure environment.

66. To this end AFMA relies on the FFA ALC type approval standard[317] which sets out a comprehensive range of VMS criteria designed to meet the needs of member country MCS agencies.

67. The specification also provides that manufacturers of any ALCs may apply to the FFA to have their equipment type approved for use within the member countries. Upon application the equipment is laboratory tested against the MCS standard at an authorised testing site in New Zealand. Once a “pass” status is obtained the director of FFA formally approves the equipment for use in the region and it is at this point that specific hardware and software is prescribed.

68. Having an agreed standard produces significant advantages especially in the area of transparency. With an agreed standard in place MCS operators can be assured the data they are receiving is timely, accurate and secure. An agreed standard also means vessels operating in any FFA member country are able to transit the region without having to carry and operate multiple systems which might otherwise be required were differing standards to apply in the various member countries.

9.4 VMS Costs

69. VMS application costs have been significantly reduced with increasing competition in the global market. Much of the expensive pioneering and developmental work has now been completed. In many cases shrink-wrapped VMS solutions are available for small scale tracking applications from a few thousand US dollars. Sophisticated VMS applications capable of tracking several thousand vessels and redistributing data across countries are also available for a fraction of the original developmental cost.

70. The major stumbling block facing effective global deployment of VMS in the current age is not technology or cost, it is mainly the will to deploy the systems and the imperative to reach global agreement on system standards and data sharing arrangements.

9.5 Australian VMS

71. In Australia VMS has proven itself to be a vital tool to curb IUU fishing in domestic fisheries.

72. The initial trigger for the application of VMS in Australia came in 1992 with the application of individual transferable quotas into the South East Trawl fishery, which had previously been managed by a range of input controls.

73. Upon application of quotas significant mis-reporting of catch by area was encountered, particularly for the species orange roughy. Less scrupulous operators commenced reporting catches of orange roughy taken inside the AFZ as having been taken on the high seas in order to avoid domestic quota restrictions.

74. AFMA responded by increasing surveillance in order to detect and subsequently prosecute operators engaging in this practice. This detection and prosecution strategy met with some success in that several offences were detected and successfully prosecuted; but this did not permanently dissuade many operators from continuing to mis-report catches by area.

75. AFMA made a decision to implement VMS for the orange roughy vessels. Trials were conducted in late 1992 and VMS was applied to these vessels in 1993. Operators were required to install and operate a VMS and, importantly, if they fished an area subject to orange roughy quota the vessel was required to return to port to unload and have their catch recorded prior to moving onto the high seas or into another quota sector.

76. The effect of VMS combined with in port inspections was immediate with reported catches from the high seas sectors falling to pre ITQ levels and reported catches inside the AFZ increasing to those experienced pre the external shock of ITQs. In addition, information reports coming in from field sources indicated that area mis-reporting was under control.

77. The initial strategy of detection and prosecution may have reduced the incidence of mis reporting to some degree but it did not impact significantly on the overall problem. Under the VMS strategy, while several vessels have been ordered to port for investigation, no prosecutions were undertaken and yet compliance on a long-term basis was achieved. It is believed that operators modified their behaviour as the majority felt that the chance of detection was high after the introduction of VMS. Again both elements of MCS prosecution and deterrence are necessary but the value of effective deterrence arrangements should not be underestimated.

78. Since then AFMA has progressively implemented VMS into a number of input and output controlled fisheries where clear benefits are identified such as monitoring quota by area in the orange roughy example, or monitoring exclusion zones and vessel days in input control fisheries.

79. AFMA generally requires foreign fishing vessels seeking port access to operate a VMS, and, should Australia enter into any foreign fishing access arrangements in the future, VMS will be a prerequisite.

80. Most of the Australian State fisheries agencies have also implemented VMS, with a total of approximately 1000 vessels currently being tracked Australia-wide. This number is set to grow significantly in the short to medium term.

9.6 Regional VMS

81. Australia is party to a number of regional management bodies and cooperating coastal states. Of particular interest in the area of VMS are CCAMLR and the FFA who both require member countries to operate a VMS for their vessels but in different ways which are discussed in the following sections.


82. CCAMLR requires[318] all contracting parties to implement VMS by 1 March 1999. If countries were unable to establish a VMS by that time they were required to advise the CCAMLR Secretariat and the timetable may be extended to 31 December 2000.

83. In the case of the CCAMLR VMS requirements the responsibility for tracking vessels and reporting breaches to the CCAMLR Secretariat rests directly with the flag state contracting party. While flag state responsibility for high seas is consistent with LOSC and UNSFA it is not the optimal regional approach. From an administrative, cost and MCS perspective (especially for developing countries) direct flag state monitoring of high seas sectors presents problems especially in cases where limited high seas areas exist between EEZs.

9.6.2 FFA VMS

84. In the case of the FFA the requirement to register on the FFA VMS register was incorporated into the FFA member country Minimum Terms and Conditions of vessel operation in 1997, and member countries are progressively implementing this requirement in domestic legislation.

85. The FFA member country VMS is based on the third party principle. A central hub site is located at the FFA Secretariat headquarters in Honiara Solomon Islands. The hub site receives information directly from distant water fishing Nation (DWFN) vessels licensed to operate in a member country jurisdiction. The central hub site processes the location of the vessel and this information together with any alerts (in near real time) to the FFA member county in whose waters the vessel is operating.

86. The method of reporting on the high seas is the subject of strong debate at the Multi Lateral High Level Conference which is currently finalising the draft convention for conservation and management of highly migratory fish stocks in the central and western Pacific. While the requirement for DWFN vessels to report directly to the regional FFA VMS has been established for areas of national jurisdiction, the protocol for high seas reporting is yet to be agreed between FFA member countries and several of the DWFNs.

87. FFA member countries and some DWFN’s support the concept of a regional VMS system operated by the soon to be established RFMO for areas of national jurisdiction and high seas. In other words a protocol where the vessel reports directly to the FFA VMS whilst operating anywhere in the RFMO area. However, some DWFNs are opposed to direct vessel location reporting to the RFMO whilst their vessels are on the high seas. For high seas some DWFNs prefer to fulfil their flag state responsibility by having their vessel report directly to the flag state who subsequently forwards the information to the regional VMS in some agreed manner, within a yet to be determined timeframe.

88. FFA member countries are not denying that high seas VMS is the responsibility of the flag state as mandated by UNSFA Article 18 paragraph (g) iii, but are asking that flag states fulfil their responsibility by immediately forwarding VMS data direct from the vessel to the regional VMS whilst in the RFMO area. The FFA VMS would then route the information back to the flag state in near real or as required.

89. Failure to reach agreement over central reporting on the high seas will weaken the power of the FFA regional VMS and any other system developed along similar principals.

9.7 VMS Cross Jurisdictional Issues

90. Many coastal states insist that foreign fishing vessels entering their ports or operating under license inside their EEZ report directly via VMS to the coastal state. Where these vessels switch operations into adjoining EEZs or between EEZs and high seas, the situation become administratively complex, and from a regional perspective obscure.

91. In the absence of a regionalised approach vessels fishing in more than one jurisdiction must continually de-register their VMS in one coastal state and then re register in the adjoining coastal state for the system to work. Again in the absence of a regional approach vessels that are required to operate their VMS inside a coastal state EEZ may simply turn the system off when they reach the high seas (obviously this creates a large loophole for MCS).

92. It could be argued that the solution is to require the vessels flag state to track their vessels throughout the entire region (inside member countries EEZs and high seas) and then forward information to the coastal state should their vessel enter the coastal sates EEZ. In reality many coastal states may not be comfortable with this outcome due to a lack of confidence in the flag state to accurately report on breaches detected by the VMS, or to fully disclose all relevant VMS position reports. Concerns may also centre on the technical integrity and accuracy of the flag state VMS as their VMS equipment may not meet the required level of technical accuracy or tamper proof operation required by the coastal state.

93. In trying to regionally harmonise VMS a preferred option may be the adoption of a third party. For example an RFO operates a system of an agreed regional standard, receipts all data for relevant vessels licensed to operate in the region and then redistributes the data to the relevant coastal state and flag state simultaneously.

9.8 Global VMS

94. At a global level the goal should be commonly agreed minimum standards for VMS data formats, data sharing arrangements, and importantly MCS standards of system technical integrity (as previously discussed).

95. A basic global data-sharing model is described as follows:

Area of Vessel Operations within an RFO area of responsibility

Vessel Reports Directly to

Data is distributed to

Flag State national jurisdiction only

Flag State VMS

Retained by Flag State

Member or non member country -national jurisdiction only


Member Country andFlag State

RFO area high seas only


Flag State

96. Should the above hub system be established at the RFMO level, the hubs sites should then be networked, thus if a vessel operates in more than one RFO area the information can be transferred between regions. For example if a vessel were registered with the FFA VMS it would be a relatively simple matter to define the IOTC geographic area within the FFA VMS. When a FFA registered vessel moves from the FFA region to the IOTC region position information would be immediately distributed to the IOTC. The IOTC would then be free to disseminate the information to its member states for national operations whilst the IOTC monitored high seas movements.

97. Where this type of arrangement exists between RFOs vessels would only need to register once with one RFO[319].

98. Assuming RFOs with vessels of common interest were linked in this manner a more global VMS could be established.

99. It is important to note that this type of arrangement is not futuristic. Assuming that political and legal issues could be resolved the technical implementation of the FFA IOTC example (at least to a pilot stage) is achievable within several months form the commencement of hardware deployment.

100. The key to success in establishing a more global VMS network between those RFOs which have vessels of common interest is establishing a common (but not necessarily central) data base of registered vessels. For example the various RFMO’s may maintain independent data bases of their authorised vessels i.e. the FFA Regional Register. When RFO’s are linked the necessary common elements of the registers are exchanged. From this point when an RFMO updates information on their local register this information is automatically forwarded by the VMS to the associated RFO’s.

9.9 New Technology in Support of VMS

101. Knowing where vessels are operating in real time through the application of VMS can produce benefits by detecting vessels that do not carry VMS. This situation arises as legal and illegal vessels often operate in close proximity to one another as either class of vessel usually operates where the fish are located. Notwithstanding this benefit the detection of non-VMS vessels operating illegally presents a significant problem for MCS.

102. In addressing the problem of vessels that do not carry VMS, AFMA is investigating a number of technologies for targeting vessel locations including Radar Sat and more recently acoustic technology.

103. Developments on the acoustic front seem to be progressing rapidly with military technology being offered for civil MCS use at prices within the range of civil authorities.

104. In particular acoustic equipment generally used to track submarines via acoustic signature can be equally applied to fishing vessels. Where a vessel acoustic signature has been pre recorded and their details obtained, reliable vessel matches may be made. Where vessel acoustic signatures have not been pre-recorded vessels are tracked as unidentified contacts. Once such a contact is made information is transmitted back to the MCS base station in much the same manner as VMS data.

105. Of particular interest to MCS in the fisheries context is that early advice indicates acoustic technology may reliably detect the deployment and operation of fishing gear. This has obvious ramifications for MCS activities such as monitoring exclusion zones.

[306] Background examples are provided in line with the authors’ current experience within the Foreign Compliance Section of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority, and previous capacity as the Forum Fisheries Agency Vessel Monitoring System Implementation Officer. While these examples are specific to the fisheries management bodies mentioned the principles are generic.
[307] The Law of the Sea Convention 1982
[308 ]Agreement for the Implementation of the Provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 10 December 1982 relating to the Conservation and Management of Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, September 1995
[309 ]Agreement to promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas, November 1993
[310] Proceedings from the International Conference on Integrated Fisheries Monitoring, Sydney Australia 1- 5 February 1999, Integrated Fisheries Monitoring: The Legal Framework, Martin Tsamaenyi and Kwame Mfodwo
[311] Foreign compliance statistics, Australian Fisheries Management Authority, based on the average number of apprehensions and prosecutions over the last 5 years
[312] Specific details are set out in UNFSA, Article 18 Flag State Responsibilities paragraph 3 ©, and Annex 1- Principles of Data Compilation Articles 2 - 7
[313] The Harmonised Minimum Terms and Conditions for Foreign Fishing Vessel Access, As amended by FFC34, 24-28 November 1997
[314] UNSFA, See Article 18 Responsibilities of Flag States, paragraphs 2 and 3
[315] See the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) case regarding the vessel Camouco apprehended by French Authorities in Kergualen, 7 February 2000
[316] See Section 94 (2) of the Fisheries Management Act 1991
[317] Forum Fisheries Agency: Vessel Monitoring System Certification Requirements for ALC’s. v1.0, 10 Feb 1997, and Forum Fisheries Agency Vessel Monitoring System: The Type Approval Process and Responsibilities for Automatic Location Communicators v1.0 10 Feb 1997
[318] CCAMLR Conservation Measure 146 /XVII, paragraph 2
[319] This would work on the same principle as registering a motor vehicle within a union of states where the vehicle only needs to be registered in one union state for it to gain complementary access to others.

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