Licensed fishing vessels operating in the following fisheries are required by law to use a vessel monitoring system (VMS):

FisherySymbol
East Coast Trawl No.1T1
East Coast Trawl Concessional ZoneT2
East Coast Trawl Moreton BayM1
Torres Strait Prawn TrawlPR
Gulf of Carpentaria Net Fishery No.2N9
Beche De Mer FisheryB1
Net Fishery (East Coast No.3)N4

Whilst VMS has been used to prove some offences such as entering restricted areas, to date there has not been a successful prosecution of illegal fishing using VMS data only.

The appeal of VMS as a monitoring and control system is very attractive, but there is doubt to how effective is it as a prosecution tool as it raises the question of whether or not information obtained through electronic devices is admissible as evidence in court. For the data to be admissible the prosecution must demonstrate, amongst other things, that the evidence has been lawfully collected.

The value of the VMS data to the prosecution case is that the VMS data can be used to verify information obtained from other sources including aerial surveillance, vessel records and in port vessel inspections.. In addition the corroborating evidence of VMS data can be added to other physical evidence such as the logbook or physical evidence of fish actually caught.  However, there is still some way to go before the court must accept the accuracy and reliability of VMS data.  

Known as “The Fish Lawyer” for her specialisation in aquaculture, marine and fisheries law, Katherine Hawes is the principal of Aquarius Lawyers.  With over 20 years’ legal and business experience, Katherine’s expertise lies in advising and representing organizations and businesses on issues pertaining to the marine environment. To find out more about Katherine, please see http://www.aquariuslawyers.com.au/