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Increasing Capacities and Cellular Data Transmission Drive New Developments in VMS Hardware

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration introduced vessel monitoring systems, simply called VMS, as part of its fisheries management toolkit in 1994 in the Pacific Islands. As of 2005, all NOAA management regions had VMS requirements in place. Since then, the hardware and its capabilities have continued to develop as fishers and fisheries managers use data collection and analysis systems.

“Programmatically, in 2007, the NOAA Fisheries VMS program was centralized into a program headquartered in Silver Spring, Maryland, which coordinates with five divisional program offices across the country,” explains Kelly Spalding, VMS program manager at NOAA.

Spalding notes that while early units collected GPS data and transmitted it when in contact with a satellite signal, most VMS units now maintain constant contact with satellites and send data in near real time.

“In 2020, NOAA Fisheries passed new regulations that allow cellular VMS units to be federally tested and approved, which means they can be used in fisheries management plans,” Spalding says. She notes that using cellular connectivity can significantly reduce the cost of VMS compliance.

A number of VMS hardware vendors have been approved by NOAA, including SkyMate and Woods Hole Group – two companies that are expanding their hardware capabilities and finding niches that serve different sectors of the commercial fishing industry.

SkyMate promises the lowest operating costs with email, SMS, weather, etc. and is compatible with Android and iOS tablets. Photo SkyMate.

“What’s new to us is our M1600,” says Craig Myers, product manager at SkyMate. “It is approved in all Fisheries Management Regions and has a number of new features including weather, email, SMS and sea surface temperature maps. It is also compatible with tablets iPad and Android. It also highlights the small footprint and low power consumption of the unit.

Myers points out that NOAA will reimburse buyers up to $3,100 for their first VMS purchase. “And we offer the cheapest monthly service, $20 to $40 a month,” he says.

According to Myers, the M1600 is designed for DIY installation, but units must be installed by a professional to qualify for a refund.

Woods Hole Group, the US division of CLS, a global VMS company, offers two units. The company’s full-size Triton offers plenty of additional capability. The new NEMO is an all-in-one unit that takes advantage of new NOAA regulations allowing the use of low cost cellular data transmission. Designed for the growing number of fisheries with VMS requirements, particularly the Gulf of Mexico charter fleet which will now be required to provide NOAA with catch reports and VMS data, allowing the agency to better assess the impact of recreational fishing on the stocks.

“The Triton has been our flagship product for five years,” says Nick Salvi, vice president of sustainable fishing at Woods Hole Group. “NMFS is tracking about 4,500 ships with our units on about half of them.”

The Triton connects to an Android tablet containing the company’s proprietary software which, like the SkyMate, transforms what was once only a position monitor into a full-service communications device that, in many ways, eliminates the need any other satellite communication device.

“We create all your catch report forms in-house and you can submit them, send emails and maintenance requests, whatever you need,” says Salvi. “It’s our most robust platform.”

The Nemo targets an emerging market. “The NEMO is the first of its kind,” says Jason Surma, Business Development Manager, Woods Hole Group. He points out that at $500, the NEMO is a fraction of the cost of the Triton, it can be paired with any cell phone or tablet and can work 100% on cell.

“Once you are out of cellular range, NEMO will continue to collect and log vessel positions. It will then transmit them en masse as soon as you are back in range,” he says.

The Nemo, new from Woods Hole, is a low-cost, all-in-one unit that can fully transmit VMS data via cellular signal. Woods Hole group photo.

Nemo is the first all-in-one system specifically designed to monitor and protect small-scale fishing. NEMO offers hybrid global connectivity, using GPRS/IoT networks in coastal areas and automatically switching to satellite systems when the vessel moves out of range of terrestrial networks.

Services range from basic delivery of data collected and processed in the CLS data center, to data integration with the client’s fisheries monitoring center and access to the CLS web platform for data visualization, alert management and custom analytics.

Surma notes that as VMS hardware evolves, more fishers and regulators are using the information and communication capabilities of the systems. “Regulators and anglers see the value in terms of the information they can collect,” he says, noting that the number of users will continue to grow.