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Satellite-based Vessel Monitoring System (VMS)

The European Union (EU) has been at the forefront of the move to use satellite to monitor fishing activities. In this connection, the basic function of VMS (satellite-based vessel monitoring system) is to provide reports of the location of a vessel at regular intervals.
Electronic devices, or "blue boxes", are installed on board vessels. These devices automatically send data to a satellite system which transmits them to a ground station which, in turn, sends them to the fisheries monitoring centre (FMC).


Commission Regulation (EC) No 2244/2003 of 18 December 2003 laying down detailed provisions regarding satellite-based Vessel Monitoring Systems.


Regulation (EC) No 2371/2002 states that fishing vessels are prohibited from engaging in fishing activities unless they have installed on board a device which allows them to be detected and identified by remote monitoring systems.

The present Regulation establishes a satellite-based Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) which applies to:

  • fishing vessels exceeding 18 metres in length, as from 1 January 2004; and
  • fishing vessels exceeding 15 metres in length as from 1 January 2005.

Fishing vessels operating exclusively inside the baselines of Member States are not subject to this requirement.

Member States are to operate Fisheries Monitoring Centres (FMC). The FMC of a Member State is to monitor:

  • the fishing vessels flying the flag of that Member State, regardless of the waters or the port they are in;
  • Community fishing vessels flying the flag of other Member States;
  • third-country fishing vessels during the time they are in the waters under the sovereignty or the jurisdiction of that Member State.

All Community fishing vessels subject to VMS must have a satellite-tracking device installed on board. The satellite-tracking devices installed on board Community fishing vessels ensure the automatic transmission to the FMC of the flag Member State, at all times, of data relating to the fishing vessel identification, the most recent geographical position of the fishing vessel, the date and time of the said position and, with effect from 1 January 2006, the speed and course of the fishing vessel.

Each Member State is to ensure that its FMC receives this information, at least once an hour, through the VMS.

The VMS established by each Member State must ensure the automatic transmission of all these data to the FMC of a coastal Member State during the time the vessels are in the waters of that coastal Member State.

In the event of a technical failure or non-functioning of the satellite-tracking device fitted on board a Community fishing vessel, the master or the owner of the vessel must communicate every four hours the up-to-date current geographical position of the vessel to the FMC of the flag Member State and the FMC of the coastal Member State.

A Community fishing vessel may not leave port before the device is functioning to the satisfaction of the competent authorities or before it is otherwise authorised to leave by the competent authorities.

Member States must report half-yearly to the Commission, by 1 May and by 1 November, on the functioning of their VMS during the previous six months.

A third-country fishing vessel subject to VMS must have an operational satellite-tracking device installed on board when it is in Community waters.


ActEntry into forceDeadline for transposition in the Member StatesOfficial Journal
Regulation (EC) No 2244/200328.12.20031.1.2004OJ L 333 of 20.12.2003


Council Regulation (EC) No 2371/2002 of 20 December 2002 on the conservation and sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources under the Common Fisheries Policy [Official Journal L 358 of 31.12.2002].

Last updated: 18.02.2005
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