The authorities use tech to boost the welfare and efficiency of fishermen while getting tough on illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing.

To improve monitoring, control and surveillance in the fisheries sector to ensure eco-sustainability, a new vessel monitoring system (VMS) has been implemented under the Maldives’ Sustainable Fisheries Resources Development Project.

Fisheries are one of the main economic activities in the Maldives, providing jobs to over 30% of the population. Launched in 2017, the Sustainable Fisheries Resource Development Project was followed in 2019 by The Maldives Fisheries Act, which bans several forms of unsustainable fishing gear such as purse seine, trawl nets and gills nets. The authorities envisage granting licenses only to vessels offering real-time tracking, and only those that are registered in the Maldives.

Commercial fishery operations need to support ‘electronic catch documentation and traceability’ (eCDT) to combat illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing. The Fisheries Act also formalizes fishermen’s entitlements to pensions, training and connectivity to emergency services.

Satellites and sustainable fishing

First, a mobile satellite communications firm worked with a radio and satellite provider to connect 732 fishing vessels active in the Maldives Economic Exclusion Zone to maritime broadband services.

This involved using an Inmarsat-4 satellite constellation to deliver reliable global voice calling and internet connectivity via a compact, lightweight antenna, and a simple installation process. The technology’s affordability makes it particularly accessible for smaller boats looking to access maritime satellite communications for the first time.

Following a successful trial onboard 15 boats, which confirmed that performance exceeded specifications for the VMS project, two agencies—Maldives-based Ooredoo and the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture—signed a five-year contract with Inmarsat and Cobham SATCOM for the supply and maintenance of the VMS. This deal includes satellite communications over L-band from Inmarsat; airtime and secure communications servers via a firm called Integrated Monitoring; and antennas from Cobham SATCOM installed by a firm called Ooredoo.

Said Maldives Fisheries Minister Zaha Waheed: “The VMS project confirms the leadership role that the Maldives continues to play in sustainable fishing and in sustaining the blue economy long-term. It puts the maritime broadband infrastructure in place to monitor and manage operations, but also to support the welfare of those working at sea. In doing so, we have chosen technology that is reliable, scalable, progressive, cost efficient and easy to use, and a group of partners with the track records to instil confidence. Successful implementation of the project would also mean that Maldives fulfil and go beyond the requirements established through the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC).”

Fishing on the Clouds

According to Ooredoo Maldives’ MD & CEO Najib Khan, the enhanced Vessel Monitoring System ensures seamless monitoring of fishing vessels for owners and the regulator, and enables new opportunities for the crew, while assuring their safety onboard.

On safety add-ons, Eric Griffin, VP of Offshore and Fishing, Inmarsat Maritime, said: “The platform can also provide weather monitoring and I expect word-of-mouth to play a significant role where data service uptake is concerned. Instant messaging will initially drive greater use as crew that are out of range of terrestrial networks stay in touch with friends and family or exchange information on fishing stocks.”

Cobham SATCOM’s regional sales manager (APAC Maritime) Meenal Rao said the enhanced connectivity will enable each vessel to protect, monitor, and enhance the rapidly-changing marine environment and play a role in enhancing the sustainability of the marine environment.

The provider of the airtime and secure communications servers, Integrated Monitoring, said the scope of this project will resonate wherever fisheries administrations seek progress on sustainability and crew welfare at scale and in an integrated way. Its CEO Jeff Douglas said the system is over 20 times faster than traditional VMS. “For the first time, it will support crew chat, mobile banking and live video monitoring to the small and mid-sized fisheries segment.”

Integrated Monitoring is also providing a cloud-hosted platform for GPS Tracking, Catch Reporting and Electronic Video Monitoring to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries for use within their Fisheries Monitoring Center in Malé.