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Vessel Monitoring System Program

The Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) allows enforcement to use 21st century technologies to monitor compliance, track violators, and provide substantial evidence for prosecution.

How It Works

VMS is a satellite surveillance system primarily used to monitor the location and movement of commercial fishing vessels in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and treaty areas. The system uses satellite-based communications from on-board transceiver units, which certain vessels are required to carry. The transceiver units send position reports that include vessel identification, time, date, and location, and are mapped and displayed on the end user’s computer screen.

Each vessel typically sends position reports once an hour, but at increased intervals when the vessel is approaching an environmentally sensitive area. Alerts can be sent to the VMS technicians and other personnel when a particular vessel location might require additional inquiry or contact with the vessel operator.

How We Use It

VMS is used to support law enforcement initiatives and to prevent violations of laws and regulations. VMS also helps enforcement personnel focus their patrol time on areas with the highest potential for significant violations. It is used as evidence in the prosecution of many environmental laws and regulations including regional fishing quotas, the Endangered Species Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, to name a few.

The VMS program currently monitors more than 4,000 vessels. It is the largest national VMS fleet in the world. The system operates 24 hours a day every day with near-perfect accuracy, which is why the program is of interest to other users, including the U.S. Coast Guard, academia, and the coastal states.

VMS data is subject to strict confidentiality requirements.

Other Uses for VMS




For program management inquiries, please contact Kelly Spalding at

For VMS compliance and technical assistance, please contact VMS Support at  or  888-219-9228.