GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Patriot Stories

January 13, 2009

Fishermen, advocates simmer over priorities

VMS used for policing, not for rescue, they say

Before there was grief over the deaths of a father and father-in-law lost with their boat while fishing, in Gloucester and throughout the Ocean Nation of commercial fishermen there was aggravation and bile.

It has been induced, fishermen and advocates say, by repeated reminders to fishing families that their government was more practiced, adept at and committed to using a wondrous invention of global positioning technology to save fish from fishermen than fishermen from the sea.

In common use globally, the VMS — or vessel monitoring system — serves primarily as what fishermen derisively call their "electronic bracelets"; they face stiff sanctions for disabling their transmitters or allowing them to break down, while the VMS signals are centralized in a computer base and used by law enforcers of the seas.

These enforcers are the National Marine Fisheries Service's Office of Law Enforcement, which does much of its own enforcement work, and the Coast Guard, which also takes orders from NMFS and acts as the police in the water-based version of television's "Law and Order."

The VMS system is primarily a law enforcement tool, but countless examples abound of the secondary expectation that the information, near real-time locations, updated no less than hourly from all commercial fishing boats that operate in federal waters from Gloucester and most ports of the Gulf of Maine and George's Bank, would be lifesavingly useful as well to the Coast Guard.

Indeed, examples abound that VMS can be a lifesaver.

Sector Boston used it successfully in November to help locate a New Bedford boat and three or four men on the Costa & Corva were brought home. And in April, "using information from NMFS' VMS system, the Coast Guard was able to locate the Wild Thing 20 miles at sea off Central California, and avert another tragedy," as Coast Guard News reported.

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