|A Busy Waterway, However The AIS Fish Beacons Give Me Great Fears|
Heading north around Cape Hatteras a few weeks back, we found ourselves facing a number of targets along our intended course - only some were more dangerous than others. That green target at top right of the image (36870200) was an American aircraft carrier performing incredibly tight turns and circles - but that wasn't the danger. Neither was the fast moving target to the left of our track (the track in black), which was the Captain Caden, a 21 meter fishing vessel out of Barnegat Bay.
|FV Handful & Four Local AIS Beacons|
The AIS system was devised and built as a safety system for vessels under management. It was not built as an identification system for unmanned, unpowered fish net and long line floats that do not ask questions and cannot correct their course. If the technology is used for net tracking, the targets should display with a clearly different icon or graphic on screen. But they do not. They look just like ships on screen.
The IMO (International Maritime Organisation) has published guidelines for the display of navigation related symbols on screen (read them here) and no fishing target beacons are included. The United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation has published a draft paper (read it here) on marking of fishing gear, which acknowledges the illegal nature of AIS fishing beacons, but doesn't come down against them.
Thanks to Ben Ellison, author of the excellent PANBO marine electronics blog, I obtained the following information from a US Coast Guard website :
"18. Can I use AIS to mark nets, pots, traps, moorings, or as a race mark, etc.? There are no outright prohibitions to use AIS (i.e. AIS AtoN) as a marker (see Types of AIS and IALA Recommendation 1016 – Mobile Marine Aids to Navigation). However, it is not permissible to do so with equipment intended for use on vessels, (i.e. AIS Class A or B devices), for lifesaving (i.e. AIS SART, MOB AIS, EPIRB AIS), or with devices that are not FCC certified and licensed. See 47 CFR §§ 2.803, 2.805, 2.301, and 80.13 regarding licensing, station identity, and the prohibition to sell, market, or use radio devices that are not FCC authorized (search, Equipment Class: AIS)." It appears then that so long as these devices are FCC approved, they can be used at sea. But are they FCC approved?
So, what has gone wrong? Firstly, Chinese manufacturers have seized on an opportunity to use AIS electronic packages as fish net beacons, though without any approvals from relevant international AIS scheme managers. Secondly, US fisherman keen to track their nets (at very low cost) have seized on these tools and deployed them, even though they are illegal under US law (my opinion). In fact you can't buy these readily in the USA - you have to order them online through Ali-Baba or one of the foreign web supply chains.
Above is the Ova fishing buoy beacon, sold out of China on the internet for not much over US$100.00, waterproof to 10 meters, and it comes pre-programmed with it's own MMSI number. Wait a minute - how did that happen? An MMSI number is supposed to be a Maritime Mobile Service Identifier - a number that identifies a vessel and an owner and tracks back to the national registration of the identified vessel.
Who ever heard of MMSI numbers being issued by the factory that built the product.... geez. They are supposed to be issued by the country of registration!
Then there are other brands and models - in fact there are so many models that there is an entire market place on the web where you can buy these (illegal) devices. Check out the page at this address. Many are shipped with software on disk plus a cable that allows the user to program the MMSI number - now this is completely illegal under US FCC regulations.
Many fisherman, reading this story, will be wondering what the heck I'm complaining about - OK so it's illegal, but where is the harm? In fact it could be that the fisherman are doing us a favor by identifying nets and floats that otherwise would be invisible to us at night. However until these beacons can be identified easily on screen as floating beacons (and not ships), then I believe that some dangerous situations are being created. Read on for the story on that ....