Nearly 130 members of the U.S. fishing industry signed a letter sent earlier this month to the top members of the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee that oversees fishing policies, expressing concerns about a bill they said would create technological redundancies, add to their costs, and raise privacy concerns.
The industry members told U.S. Reps. Jared Huffman (D-California) and Cliff Bentz (R-Oregon), in the 14 September letter they oppose a proposed requirement in H.R. 3075, also known as the Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act, that would mandate automatic identification systems (AIS) be used to track fishing activities in both U.S. waters and the open seas.
The Saving Seafood Coalition organized the letter, which was signed by fishermen and other industry stakeholders located across the country.
Most American fishing boats use a different tracking technology, vessel monitoring systems (VMS). The letter notes that VMS provides for secured transmissions and is already in use by such federal agencies as the U.S. Coast Guard and NOAA Law Enforcement.
Industry leaders also pointed out AIS uses radio signals that can be spoofed. It’s also an open-source technology, meaning a boat’s data could be seen by competitors.
“AIS’ main function should remain for vessel safety and required to be on only when within 12 nautical miles from shore,” they wrote.
The letter also pointed to testimony provided by Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries Janet Coit at the 27 July House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife hearing that included discussion on the bill.
Huffman is the subcommittee chairman, while Bentz is the ranking Republican on the panel.
In her written remarks, Coit said the section of the bill requiring AIS technology was “duplicative” since fishing boats are already equipped with VMS.
“AIS is primarily a collision-avoidance system, but VMS are more effective for tracking fishing-vessel movement and effort, are less susceptible to tampering, and have better tools for two-way communications with vessels,” she wrote.
The bipartisan bill is sponsored by Huffman and U.S. Rep. Garret Graves (R-Louisiana).
In a statement to SeafoodSource on Wednesday, 29 September, Huffman said he was appreciative of the industry’s thoughts about the legislation. He added that transparency is essential in stopping human rights violations and illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing. That’s where AIS is essential, he claimed.
“The European Union and the U.S. already require certain vessels to be equipped with AIS and make the data publicly available, but VMS data isn’t,” Huffman said. “If we expand use of key data like AIS, we will increase the transparency of our own fishing fleet and hold other countries to the same high standards by requiring its use as a condition for import.”
Using AIS technology in this manner will have other benefits, too, he said. As the technology was developed for collision prevention, it can be used in the future for such purposes as siting for offshore wind leases.
Huffman also noted that AIS is a one-time cost for fishermen, while VMS is an ongoing cost.
“My bill provides funding for the purchase of AIS equipment, so this won’t be a burden on honest American fishermen,” Huffman said.
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