GPS Tracking Units for
Vessel Management

One of the main issues regarding any laws or regulations governing the fisheries is enforcement. Requiring all fishing vessels to have a GPS tracking device on board will make the regulation of fishermen and fishing companies much simpler and more effective. A tracking device will give off a signal that can be recorded by geosynchronous satellites, so the exact position of the fishing vessel can be monitored by the regulating body. It will allow regulating bodies to know which fleets are in the water and whether or not they are within legal boundaries at any given time, thus ensuring that marine protected areas and time-area closures are not being fished. Speeds of less than three knots usually indicates that the vessel is fishing, and patterns in global positioning data can also help managers determine what type of fishing strategy the vessel is using (Marshall et al, 1998).

Such a device is also capable of receiving signals via satellite. This will be essential for alerting vessels in danger and allowing fishing boats to know the whereabouts of other fishing boats in the area. We discussed earlier the need for a flexible management strategy that can be easily modified to accommodate changes in the ecosystem, and such management strategies might include a system of time and area closures. A tracking system will allow fishermen to determine their exact position and how close they are to the closed areas that are in effect that day. Additionally, the device can be programmed keep a tally on the amount of fish caught by that particular vessel and how much of the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) has been caught.

Relevant products are already on the market. Applied Satellite Technologies, Ltd., based in the United Kingdom, has also developed a line of such products under the brand Thrane & Thrane. These devices provide two-way communication and allow for the transfer of email and fax messages. Satellite communication providers include Inmarstat, Argos, and Iridium, which provide global coverage. The cost of transmission has fallen from over $0.15 to less than $0.05 since the advent of VMS, and a device that once cost $10,000 in 1988 now can be purchased for $1500 (Navigs s.a.r.l., 2005). As technologies become more widespread, the devices will become more affordable.

One concern that may arise is the tampering of data and "cheating" the system. The easiest way to do this would be blocking the antennae to the GPS or disconnecting the power supply, but analysis of the GPS data would show the ship's absence, and regulators would be able to investigate the vessel's whereabouts. Several kits designed to tamper with the electronics within the system and falsify GPS data had been manufactured and sold in Korea, and in response to this, Thrane & Thrane reinvented their products so that the GPS unit was more complexly integrated with the communications unit, making it much more difficult to manipulate.

Nations are beginning to realize the benefits of a system proven feasible and practical, and have already taken steps towards implementing such a system. The United States and the United Kingdom both have some form of GPS tracking system used for the regulation of their waters. In 2000, the UK required a GPS system in every fishing vessel over 24 meters (AST, 2004). Three years ago they decided that fishing vessels 15 meters and longer would be required to have the GPS Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) installed, and signed a contract purchasing 750 VMS devices for fishing vessels. The devices are designed to be tamper proof in order to guarantee accurate information is transmitted. The devices provide the monitoring agency with the vessels speed, direction, position, course and destination. Allowing the regulatory agency to successfully and easily monitor and enforce oceanic law in the surrounding waters.

The United States as well has a system similar to Britain's tracking system. In New England, the North East Vessel Monitoring Program monitors fishing vessels, collecting not only position and velocity data but also information about the vessel's catch. The system requires the skipper of the fishing vessel to inform the central headquarters about his/her intent for that day. This includes providing course information, types species to be caught and anticipated catch size. The skipper must wait for the request to be approved before actually setting sail. The devices are required (except in special cases) to remain on in order to continuously report vessel location (NOAA, 2007).

Other countries that currently have implemented a Vessel Monitoring System include Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Uruguay, China, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Falklands Islands, Estonia, Iceland, Malta, Russia, and Spain. It is important to build off the success of existing Vessel Monitoring Systems and help fisheries in developed nations, especially those with open access fisheries, to implement the monitoring of ships in their waters. The United States and United Kingdom should use their current successes with their vessel monitoring systems to other countries as examples of the success and benefits of such a system. Both countries should also outline their future plans and modifications to the VMS in order to further convince nations to adopt this solution. Our ultimate goal would be to have every commercial fishery employ some form of GPS tracking on their ships. The technology is out there - it is up to the leaders of the world to take the initiative and implement the solution.

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