Under current Mexican law, it is illegal
for commercial boats like longliners anddrift gillnetters,to
take fish reserved for sportsfishing within fifty miles of
the coast in the Sea of Cortez, and any fish within 12 miles
of the Revillagigedo Islands. Because of limitations in funds,
and personnel, as well as the incipient corruption, CONAPESCA,
the Navy and PROFEPA have failed to monitor these areas with
traditional methods, such as ships and airplanes. Consequently,
these fishing laws are not being enforced, and the amazing
Sea of Cortez continues to be destroyed.
Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) are the only way
Mexico will be able to adequately enforce its 50 mile preservation
zones and other closed areas. VMS is essentially
a Global Position System carried on commercial fishing boats
that transmits the ship’s geographic position to various
state enforcement agencies. VMS allows one employee to monitor
up to 500 boats for about $1.00/day per boat - about 1% the
cost of aerial or marine surveillance and much more effective.
Setting up the system is also very inexpensive: the cost per
boat is about $2,000 and the entire land station, including
servers, workstations, and internet connections costs a maximum
of $50,000. Similar systems are operational already in the
U.S, Canada, the E.U., Chile, and others. Click
here to learn about the successful implementation of VMS
For the last four years SeaWatch, along with the Billfish
Fund, have spearheaded a drive to put vessel monitoring systems
on the Mexican longline and drift gillnet fleet. SeaWatch
advisor Guillermo Alverez has been actively lobbying and working
with all levels of government including Congress, SAGARPA,
and Baja California Sur state officials. At a public meeting
in Cabo San Lucas on Secretary Usabiaga of SAGARPA embraced
VMS and agreed to provide all of the financing. VMS is also
backed by SEMARNAT, the Navy, Gobernacion, PROFEPA. and CONAPESCA.
In March 2003, SeaWatch visited Bob Harman, the head of VMS
systems installation and enforcement in the Pacific, and received
an in-depth presentation about how the VMS system works.
In May, 2003, the B.C.S. SAGARPA paid for Navy Captain Rogelio
and Mr. Soto to visit Hawaii and meet with Bob Harman and
other NOAA officials. They also came to understand the benefits
and efficiency of VMS during this trip partially organized
Shortly after their return,
then CONAPESCA Commissioner Ramos asked the U.S. government
to provide training and support
for a Mexican version of VMS. But even with federal support
for VMS, SeaWatch will continue to take a leadership role
in urging government to implement this important system.
Mexico must make a long-term commitment to provide the necessary
political, legal, and financial support. And with over 20%
of the entire Mexican coastline, Baja California Sur has
the most to gain…and the most to lose.
VMS represents the first step towards a truly sustainable
Sea of Cortes.
SeaWatch is working closely with government to:
the Marine Recreation and Sportsfishing Commission of
the B.C.S Conapesca Commission to pass a declaration expressing
their total support for VMS.
||Help draft and
oversee a clear set of legal standards for VMS.
||Educate the public,
the fishing industry, and other NGO’s about VMS,
its benefits for safety and communication, and its critical
role in protecting Mexico’s natural heritage.
||Establish an effective
sportsfishing permit system to provide long-term funding
and working with all levels of government to maintain
institutional support for VMS.
If you too would like to see VMS implemented and want to
help get involved, visit the What
You Can Do page or contact
us via email.
The following explains how the system actually works in
Hawaii and how Mexico can learn from the mistakes that Hawaii
NOAA Law Enforcement’s Pacific
Islands Fishing Vessel Monitoring System
Since June 1994, NOAA Fisheries (also known as National Marine
Fisheries Service), Southwest Law Enforcement Division, has
used an automated, satellite-based vessel monitoring system
(VMS) on a routine basis. The VMS program was developed and
implemented in response to concerns about effective monitoring
of large, geographically isolated regulated areas in the US
Pacific Islands. In close cooperation with the fishing industry,
fishery management council and other government agencies,
NOAA implemented remote monitoring techniques to enhance management
of the pelagic longline and lobster fisheries.
The Pacific Islands system was the first large-scale vessel
tracking application in a US domestic fishery. All pelagic
longline vessels in Hawaii (currently about 145) are required
to carry and operate the shipboard VMS units (sometimes called
“transponders”) as a condition of obtaining a
permit to fish in Hawaiian waters or land their fish in Hawaiian
The hardware, software and communications components of
the system are all commercially available. The Pacific Islands
VMS program combines the use of the Global Positioning System
(GPS) with the Inmarsat-C satellite communications network
to send information about fishing activities to a shore side
control center. NOAA pays all costs for equipment purchases,
repairs and position reporting in the Pacific Islands program.
The shipboard unit can be linked to a personal computer, which
provides the vessel operator with navigational information
and secure two-way communications. The vessel pays these personal
The VMS unit, a Trimble Galaxy Inmarsat-C/GPS transceiver,
is mounted in the vessel’s wheelhouse and the antenna
is mounted on top of the wheelhouse or on a mast. The cost
of the antenna, transceiver and installation is less than
US$2000. The GPS position is included in a data message that
contains the vessel’s identity, date and time. The data
message may also contain other parameters such as course and
speed, and special codes for antenna blockage, power failure,
and others. This data message is transmitted automatically
at pre-set intervals to an Inmarsat satellite. NOAA can remotely
change the reporting interval, which can range from 10 minutes
up to 24 hours. The message is received at a land earth station,
which processes the message into usable form, and makes it
available to the VMS control center in Honolulu.
The control center that would cover all the Eastern Pacific
Ocean (the whole world for that matter) would cost a maximum
of US$50,000, which would include servers, internet connection,
analysis workstation, graphics monitor, software applications
for VMS (database, base maps, office applications, mapping,
etc.), service contracts, etc. Data are received and stored
in a database and displayed on a mapping program, which allows
storage, archival, manipulation and display of the vessel
position information. A list of exception reports are available
in the software so information on any vessel of interest,
for example, one approaching a no fishing zone can be sent
automatically via email or cellular phone call to the Navy
or other authorized personnel. In Hawaii, Coast Guard watch
standers are tasked with reviewing the control center every
few hours to monitor system functionality and identify vessels
The program has been a success. All of the law enforcement
cases relating to violations of the closed areas have been
initiated by the VMS. The system also enhances search and
rescue operations in the region.
Comparisons of the cost-effectiveness of the VMS versus traditional
methods for surveillance and enforcement (ships and airplanes)
show that the Hawaii VMS can monitor the activities of the
fleet for less than 1% of the cost of traditional
methods. The VMS also offers a level of surveillance
coverage that far surpasses traditional methods.