Australian Marine Parks

The use of Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) is mandatory for all vessels operating in or transiting through an Australian Marine Park (AMP).

Implementation of these rules will take effect on 1 July 2024 and are designed to complement fisheries management requirements and where possible avoid imposing any additional burden on fishers. Transition to VMS arrangements is staged under time-bound exemptions to align with fisheries jurisdictions progression towards VMS implementation. The maximum extension to any exemption is the expiry of the current marine park management plans on 1 July 2028.

VMS offers many benefits to industry through providing vital spatial, temporal, operational and environmental data to validate fishing activities. Benefits include:

  • supporting sustainable fishing and protecting the marine environment
  • helping fishers to avoid inadvertent breaches
  • transparency - building confidence and social licence from the public
  • the ability to provide efficient data validation to support compliance with fisheries management and marine park rules, with improved ability to identify Illegal unreported and unregulated fishing
  • potential ability to meet certain sustainability requirements of seafood certification programs
  • provision of improved information for species stock assessments, data validation and decision making.

What is a Vessel monitoring system (VMS)?

A VMS is a tracking unit installed on a commercial fishing vessel, which communicates through satellite networks to land-based receiving stations. The unit transmits data on vessel location, course, and speed, providing real time information on commercial fishing activities to fishery managers and marine park compliance teams. Some VMS units also allow for automatic notifications to be established to help fishers avoid areas where fishing is prohibited.

Is a VMS required in all Australian Marine Parks?

Yes. To ensure compliance with AMP rules, it is required that all commercial fishing vessels operating in or transiting through an AMP have a VMS unit installed and activated in line with the staged implementation approach and no later than 1 July 2028. This does not impact commercial fisheries operating within coastal waters, or outside AMPs.

Does the VMS requirement apply to all commercial fishing vessels? Even if the only occasionally transit an AMP?

Yes, the VMS requirement applies to all commercial fishing vessels operating in or transiting through an AMP regardless of frequency.

When will VMS become mandatory in AMPs?

To avoid additional burden on fishers, we have adopted a staged approach to the implementation of mandatory VMS in AMPs.

Table 1 Stages for the implementation of VMS in AMPs

Type of vessel

When VMS is required

Vessels that carry a VMS under relevant fisheries management regulations

When operating in or transiting through an AMP from 1 July 2024 onwards

Vessels that do not currently carry a VMS, but their relevant fisheries management agency is progressing arrangements to transition to VMS

VMS will be required when operating in or transiting through an AMP after 1 July 2024 on the date that fisheries management VMS requirements take effect and no later than 1 July 2028

Vessels that do not have a VMS requirement in their fisheries jurisdiction

VMS will be required when operating in or transiting through an AMP by 1 July 2028

Consultation process

We consulted with industry and government multiple times since 2018. The management plans for five Australian Marine Park Networks signalled that we may introduce a VMS requirement during the next 10 years.

In early 2023, we released a formal proposal on the implementation of mandatory VMS for commercial fishing vessels that operate in, or transit through, AMPs.

During consultation, we sought industry views and information to inform its consideration of the VMS requirement. We provided a consultation paper and example commercial fishing class approvals as part of the consultation.

Written feedback was sought through and correspondence with commercial fishing industry bodies between 27 February 2023 and 26 May 2023. Following the formal consultation period, we continued working with the commercial fishing industry and fisheries management agencies to develop an implementation approach that reduces additional burden on fishers.

See also: Consultation report

Compliance approach

Our approach to compliance is risk based, meaning that resources are directed towards addressing the highest risks. This requires encouraging and enabling voluntary compliance and assessing the rate of offences and non-compliance with marine park rules.

Commercial fishing activities make up approximately 60 per cent of domestic compliance incidents in Australian Marine Parks. The risk of illegal commercial fishing activity is mitigated by monitoring the location of commercial fishing within AMPs. We use VMS data to ensure fishing activities are occurring only where they are allowed with the zones of the marine park.

VMS technology is proven to be the most efficient and cost-effective tool of the compliance program for Parks Australia. It not only allows monitoring of activity in AMPs but also provides ‘real time’ alerts to vessels equipped with two-way communication informing them that they may be in breach of park management arrangements when entering an area where their gear type is not allowed.  

AMP alert service

VMS units capable of two-way communication can allow fishers to participate in the AMP alert service. This is a free tool delivered by Parks Australia aimed at avoiding non-compliance in AMPs. By raising awareness and promoting voluntary compliance, the alert service delivers significant cost savings to government and industry resulting from a reduction in inadvertent non-compliance and associated legal and investigation fees.

When a vessel enters an AMP where the nominated gear type is not allowed, an alert message is sent via email to an onboard computer and/or as an SMS to a nominated phone.  The AMP alert service is now active for all Commonwealth commercial fishing vessels and some state and territory licensed fishing vessels operating in AMPs around Australia. The service is free and available to fishers through compatible VMS technology already fitted to their vessels. It has a strong track record in alerting fishers to potential non-compliance and enabling corrective action to be taken before non-compliance occurs.

Support and assistance program

$5.5 million in grants has been provided through the Electronic and Vessel Monitoring Systems Assistance Program to assist state and Northern Territory fisheries management agencies to increase the number of commercial fishing vessels that carry VMS and help industry to comply with new VMS requirements.

The grants will cover the cost of purchase and installation of a number of VMS units and two years of airtime. The grants are also covering upgrades to existing VMS units, e-monitoring trials, stakeholder engagement and improvements to the functionality of states’ VMS programs.

For further details on the assistance available under these grants and eligibility criteria, please contact your relevant fisheries management agency.

How much will VMS cost fishers?

Under the Electronic and Vessel Monitoring Systems Assistance Program, state and Northern Territory fisheries management agencies applied for grants to cover upfront VMS costs, including unit purchase and installation and up to two years airtime for new units for most affected fishers.

Ongoing costs beyond the initial two years are influenced by unit type, polling rate and airtime cost recovery arrangements determined by the individual state and Northern Territory fisheries management agencies.

Some states and territories have existing VMS requirements and cost recovery arrangements may not apply.

In considering the requirement for VMS in Australian Marine Parks, an Impact Analysis was published by the Office of Impact Analysis.

Building on existing practices

The requirement for VMS in AMPs builds on existing systems and processes, minimising unnecessary change to previous practices.

Class approval conditions will support the use of VMS in marine parks consistent with existing fisheries agency requirements for VMS.

Fishers who access AMPs and already have a VMS unit installed and operational under fishery management arrangements will not need to do anything new to comply with the requirement.

What happens if a VMS unit fails?

If a VMS unit fails, we will apply the relevant fisheries management agency VMS rules. These usually require the vessel make arrangements for manual reporting. If an operator is authorised to manually report the vessel’s position, course and speed, by their fisheries management agency, the vessel can continue fishing in the AMP. If the fisheries management agency does not have arrangements for manual reporting, the fisher must contact the Director of National Parks for authorisation.

How does Parks Australia use VMS data?

VMS data is used for compliance purposes only and managed under strict data sharing agreements with state and territory fisheries management agencies. VMS data can only be accessed by marine parks compliance officers as part of their official duties.

Parks Australia uses VMS data to detect possible non-compliant activities within AMPs only. Vessel transit speeds through AMPs are reviewed to detect potential fishing in zones where the method is not allowed.

Activity that is in breach of a class approval will be investigated and a range of compliance options are possible depending upon the circumstances. VMS data can be used as evidence should illegal activities be identified.

How will data privacy be ensured?

We acknowledge the critical importance to the fishing industry of maintaining the integrity of commercial fisheries data. All commercial fishers’ VMS data is confidential. There are processes and safeguards that respect this fundamental aspect of fishing and fisheries management.

Parks Australia will only access data based on legally binding data sharing agreements with the relevant fisheries management agency that protects the confidentiality of fishers’ data.

How do the data sharing agreements work?

The data sharing agreements ensure the confidentiality of fishing data by stipulating when and how data is provided, used, stored and accessed.

All existing data agreements state that the information will only be used for the purpose of detecting and enforcing compliance with the EPBC Act and its regulations.

More information