Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page


3.1 Definition of MCS

Along with the potential for enhanced economic benefits, the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea also brought with it responsibilities for coastal States in the utilization of resources in EEZs. It is this latter responsibility that, in many cases, has demonstrated the need for development and control over the use of a country's marine resources. Fisheries are central to this development, as fish and their habitat are key resources in the exclusive economic zone. Although the objectives of fisheries management and MCS are generally to take advantage of the economic opportunities of the extension of the EEZ, they also include the exercise of sovereign rights over the zone, conservation of marine resources, and collection of appropriate data on activities to ensure sound, rational oceans and fisheries management planning. Fisheries MCS needs to be defined in light of these points.

There is ample literature on the subject of MCS and there are several definitions and interpretations; those commonly used by fisheries personnel stem from the MCS Conference of Experts in 1981 in Rome and are broadly defined as:

  1. monitoring - the continuous requirement for the measurement of fishing effort characteristics and resource yields.

  2. control - the regulatory conditions under which the exploitation of the resource may be conducted.

  3. surveillance - the degree and types of observations required to maintain compliance with the regulatory controls imposed on fishing activities.2

More simply stated, MCS is the implementation of a plan or strategy. In the case of oceans management and fisheries, it includes the implementation of operations necessary to effect an agreed policy and plan for oceans and fisheries management.3 MCS is an often overlooked aspect of oceans and fisheries management; but, in reality, it is key to the success of any planning strategy. The absence of a strategy and methodology for implementation of monitoring, control and surveillance operations would render a fisheries management scheme incomplete.

2 FAO (1981)

3 There is reference in this paper to oceans policy, integrated oceans planning and management, and fisheries management. This is to emphasize the fact that any management policy or plan which applies to oceans will impact on several components of integrated ocean management. Fisheries departments, as the central component in ocean resource management, have an obligation to assume a key role in conservation and protection of ocean resources. MCS then becomes multi-sectoral, being essential for implementation of fisheries management strategies, as well as necessary for the successful implementation of wider oceans policies, plans and strategies.

3.2 MCS components

There are three main components to MCS which, depending on cost, commitment, and organizational structure (national, sub-regional, or regional), will be configured uniquely for each system. These are the land, sea and air components. The latter now often includes the use of satellite technology.

The land component, or base of operations, can serve the inland, freshwater, and coastal aspects of fisheries monitoring, control and surveillance. The land component is usually the coordinating sector of all MCS activities and regulates the deployment of available resources to best address the changing situations in the fisheries. The coastal/land component is the sector responsible for port inspections and the monitoring of transhipments and trade in fish products to ensure compliance with fisheries legislation.

The sea component of MCS includes the actual technology for surveillance of the national, sub-regional or regional maritime zones of control. This component can include radar and vessel platforms which are utilized for these purposes. Traditional apprehension of an alleged violator of the laws which apply in an EEZ requires a “laying of hands” on the offender, mainly for the legal formality of arresting, but also for identification and securing of evidence. As this is sometimes costly in terms of vessels, crews and supplies, many nations are now favouring “no force” surveillance techniques. These include the use of observers, national or regional vessel registers or licenses and agreements which include clauses regarding the responsibility of the flag State for the actions of its citizens and vessels. The fisheries management strategy, if it utilizes zonal fishing divisions, quotas necessitating catch monitoring, mesh and gear restrictions and minimum/maximum fish sizes, requires vessels to carry fisheries personnel which can remain at sea with the fishing fleets to perform these functions, as they cannot be expedited from land. The patrol vessels also serve a maritime safety function while at sea.

The air component of MCS is usually the first level of response to a coastal state/regional concern in its area of responsibility or interest. The flexibility, speed and deterrence of air surveillance makes it a very useful and cost-effective tool for fisheries management. This component also provides the cheapest and most rapid information collection on fishing effort in the zone of interest, from either the aircraft or satellite platforms. The cost of these systems is directly related to the sophistication of the technology utilized. Air surveillance, while providing initial information regarding the activity in the fisheries, can also be the first indicator of potential illegal activity in the zone. This latter information is the base on which further MCS action can be precipitated. Air surveillance also has the added advantage of a secondary tasking capability for fisheries habitat and general coastal zone management monitoring.

The potential benefits to seafarers in difficulty at sea, pollution, habitat and general coastal zone management monitoring are significant in that they can also be addressed during fisheries MCS activities. Multi-tasking of expensive fisheries MCS resources for other fisheries-related monitoring functions can be cost efficient and also effective in terms of integrated ocean management programmes, in particular with respect to fisheries and the marine environment.

Acceptance of the aforementioned definition of monitoring, control and surveillance emphasizes the point that MCS is a three-tiered system. A common error in establishing MCS systems throughout the world is the concentration on the “S” in MCS, or the enforcement phase, without due regard to the importance of the other two phases. The monitoring and control aspects of MCS provide the base of information and legal framework for sound fisheries management and operational planning. The surveillance phase is the most expensive aspect of MCS and hence, developing countries must look at the most cost-effective methods to carry out functions related to this component.

It is useful to remember that the most beneficial aspect of enforcement is preventive enforcement, or voluntary compliance. It is similar to car repairs where it is less expensive to conduct preventive maintenance than to carry out time consuming, and costly, repairs. The same principles apply to MCS. An understanding and acceptance by those who will most benefit from MCS actions, the fishers, can prove most effective in gaining their support, commitment and involvement for surveillance purposes. Voluntary compliance has the added advantage of then permitting a focus for the expensive enforcement resources towards areas of major national, sub-regional or regional concern in the most cost-effective manner. The deterrent impact contained in the control phase, or the legislation supporting MCS, will determine the potential repetition of offenses. If there is an understanding of the rationale for the fisheries legislation, this will disuade the fishers from violating these acts and regulations. This idea can be reinforced through the drafting of enforceable legislation and appropriate penalties.

3.3 Role in fisheries management

Where does MCS fit in fisheries management? The schematic of fisheries management on the next page helps address this question4. In essence, this schematic assumes that there are three linked components of fisheries management:

  1. collection of data on biological, economic, social aspects of the fisheries and basic information on the fishers, boats and gear;
  2. decision making or fisheries management planning; and,
  3. implementation, the MCS aspect of fisheries management involving both government officials and members of the fisheries community and industry.

The first component (data gathering) includes collection and analysis of biological/resource assessment data, basic fisheries information on fishers, boats and gear, fishing trends and patterns, and social and economic data for the harvesting, processing and marketing sectors of fisheries. The analysis of these data provides the input into the fisheries planning exercise.

4 Fanning, Paul J. Fisheries Management System, CARICOM Fisheries Newsnet, Volume 2. Number 2. CARICOM Fisheries Resource Assessment and Management Program Belize, C.A. August 1993.

The second component (decision-making), includes the entire process of consultation and negotiation with all parties which influence the decisions concerning a fishery. This should result in fisheries management plans for the harvesting, processing and marketing sectors. The key factor in this decision-making component which affects the entire process of fisheries management is the political will and its commitment to sustainable and rational fisheries management. Political commitment is crucial to success in the implementation of fisheries management plans.

The last component, which is often the most difficult for governments to deal with due to potentially high cost or other government priorities or arrangements in the fisheries sector, is the implementation of these plans. It is represented by monitoring, control and surveillance of the fisheries and the fishers, and is an absolute requisite to the successful implementation of fisheries management plans. The most comprehensive and acceptable plan on paper will not result in successful fisheries management unless it is implemented through the use of monitoring, control and surveillance operations. Lack of attention or commitment to implementation of MCS activities often results in overfishing, collapse of resources and economic loss to future generations.

In the past, officials often reflected the view that fisheries management includes only the biological studies for resource assessment and development of management plans, and there the process ends. The fish were then expected to conserve themselves and the industry was to be the steward for processing and marketing. The support for data collection and policing of fishers and the industry to ensure appropriate input into future fisheries management plans, and the successful realization of these plans, was low. Now, there is a growing awareness of the declining condition of the environment and a greater acceptance of the need for investment in implementaion (MCS) of natural resource management plans, including those for fisheries. It is in this vein that countries are attempting to address the earlier concerns with respect to the funding of MCS activities.

Experience in these initiatives to date has demonstrated a need for one agency to assume, or be assigned, the lead for MCS activities to prevent the confusion, duplication and associated inefficiencies and extra costs of multi-agency authorities. As fisheries have the greatest risk with respect to mismanagement of renewable marine resources and their habitat, it may be a consideration that fisheries departments be delegated this lead role in MCS matters. As noted earlier, however, MCS activities in support of fisheries management can also accommodate other secondary tasks which pertain to conservation of a nation's natural resources and its environment. The expensive infrastructure required for MCS activities, especially in terms of aircraft and vessels, when coupled with the overall responsibility for MCS of the coastal zone and EEZ of each country, or group of countries, for fisheries and their habitat/marine environment is easier to rationalize as being appropriate to the magnitude of the task.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page