Vessel Monitoring Systems

Implementing VMS in Victorian Commercial Fisheries

Under new Fisheries Regulations 2019, it is mandatory for vessel monitoring systems (VMS) to be installed on vessels operating in the following commercial fisheries:

  • Abalone
  • Rock lobster
  • Giant crab
  • Inshore trawl
  • Western Port/Port Phillip Bay
  • Corner Inlet
  • Sea urchin
  • Ocean and dive scallop (already use VMS)
  • Octopus (new fishery)
  • Banded morwong (new fishery)

VMS is best practice in fisheries compliance and is used in many Australian and international fisheries. Victorian fishers who hold Commonwealth fishing concessions will already be familiar with VMS and have it installed on their vessel.

The VFA will work collaboratively with industry to implement this important change. This will involve a focus for the first six months on education and facilitation for fishers who have an approved VMS installed on their boat. The VFA will develop guidelines and consult with industry prior to implementing VMS in the fishery they operate in.

What is VMS?

VMS uses small onboard transceivers to regularly log a vessel’s position and upload this information to the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) servers. This information is accessible to VFA officers who can view it on computers and portable devices such as iPads.

Why has the VFA implemented VMS?

The VFA is implementing the use of modern technologies like E-catch and VMS to help ensure the sustainability of Victorian fisheries. VMS will lead to more efficient and effective fisheries management, including compliance, as well as increased community confidence in fisheries management.

When will VMS be required?

The VMS regulations came into effect on 1 February 2020, but fishers were immediately made exempt from the requirement while the VFA identifies VMS equipment and service providers and makes these available to fishers.

The VFA will phase in VMS over the next 18 to 24 months. Dates for specific fisheries are listed below.


Implementation date

Ocean and dive scallop (already have VMS)

1 February 2020


1 July 2020

Rock lobster

1 July 2020

Giant crab

1 July 2020

Inshore trawl

From 2021

Western Port/Port Phillip Bay

From 2021

Corner Inlet

From 2021

Sea urchin

From 2021

Octopus (new fishery)

From 2021

Banded morwong (new fishery)

From 2021

Implementation schedule for the abalone, rock lobster and giant crab fisheries


VFA undertakes request for quote for standard VMS devices and airtime plans

1 March

VFA standard approved device selected

16 March

VFA-standard approved devices begin to become available for installation

15 April

Succorfish trial for the abalone fishery finishes

1 May

VFA makes decision on approval of Succorfish units for the abalone fishery

1 July

VMS required on abalone, rock lobster and giant crab vessels

What VMS data will the VFA collect?

The VFA will collect vessel position, speed and bearing information while the vessel is being used for commercial fishing.

What are the regulatory requirements for VMS?

General requirement

All commercial abalone fishing boats are required to have a VMS unit installed and operational at the commencement of a commercial fishing trip and for the duration of a trip.

Specifying a method of communication with the boat

After the VMS unit is installed and at least five days before the boat is used for commercial fishing, the operator must inform the VFA of the method that will be used to communicate with that person whenever they are on the vessel.

This can, for example, be a mobile or satellite telephone number, and should be monitored by the fisherman or deckhand. The purpose of this is to allow the VFA to contact the operator if there are any issues detected with the VMS.

How much will VMS cost and who will pay for it?

The VFA will provide, at no charge, one VFA-approved device to each licence holder and will reimburse them up to $250, subject to them providing tax invoices, for the cost of installation. Fishers will be required to buy any additional or replacement units.

New entrants to the fishery after 1 July 2020 will be required to supply their own VFA-approved VMS unit.

If the VFA approves the use of Succorfish devices, it will reimburse the abalone industry the cost of its Succorfish devices and will work with zonal executive officers to determine the most appropriate method taking account of, for example, the age of the devices and the need for replacement.

The VFA will recover any airtime and AFMA service costs it incurs through annual licence levies.

What VMS devices can be used? Can I install the unit myself?

The VFA is currently undertaking a request for quote from VMS equipment providers and intends to specify the approved device(s) by 1 March 2020. The list of approved devices will include devices that are currently authorised by AFMA for operating in Commonwealth fisheries if they are already installed on the vessel.

No other VMS units can be used.

The VFA is investigating units that can be approved for self-installation, but these must still be installed in adherence to the Installation and Maintenance Standard to be published by the VFA prior to 1 July 2020.

How do I register my VMS unit?

Once the unit is installed on a boat, it must be registered with the VFA Commercial Licencing team. The VFA will then activate the unit on the AFMA platform and check that it is operating effectively.

The VFA will provide further details once the approved equipment supplier is identified.

This is a one-off event that will only need to be repeated if the VMS device is moved to another fishing vessel, the vessel details change, or a new device is installed.

How can I tell if my VMS unit is working?

The VFA will require units have a visual indication that the unit is correctly working. As a secondary failsafe, the VFA is also investigating systems that have a smartphone app to allow fishers to check their unit is working properly.

If the visual indication on the unit is not working, and a smartphone app is not available, you can contact commercial licensing during business hours or the duty officer afterhours to check if the unit is polling.

What if my VMS is not working while in port/before a trip?

VMS units are designed for the marine environment and are therefore highly reliable if installed correctly. You will not be able to commence a trip/return to sea until you can confirm that you have a working VMS unit on your boat. If your unit is not working, a spare unit can be used, or a unit can be transferred from another boat.

The VFA intends to maintain spare units at key regional locations as a backup to allow fishers to get up and running as quickly as possible.

In special circumstances, the VFA duty officer may approve fishing if the device is not working properly. This will be subject to conditions such as a requirement for manual reporting. The VFA will develop guidelines in consultation with industry.

Please note that the Fisheries Regulations 2019 do not allow the VFA to permit a vessel to be used for commercial fishing trip if a VMS unit installed on it. Fishers must, therefore, have a VMS unit installed on their vessel before it is used for commercial fishing.

What if my VMS stops working while I am at sea?

If your VMS stops working while at sea you must either return to port or contact the VFA duty officer for approval to continue fishing without an operating VMS.

In special circumstances, the duty officer may approve manual reporting for a set period of time during which the fisher will report their position regularly by email or SMS to the VFA while their VMS unit is being replaced or repaired.

The VFA will develop guidelines in consultation with industry that explain how fishers can obtain this approval and the circumstances that will apply.

What if I want to move VMS units between boats?

Fishers will need to provide the VFA with the name and registration details of the new vessel that the VMS unit will be installed on. This will have to be done using the approved form during business hours and at least 24 hours before the next fishing trip commences.

In special circumstances, the VFA duty officer may approve fishing without these details being updated. The VFA will develop guidelines in consultation with industry that explain how fishers can obtain this approval and the circumstances that will apply.

What if I want to use my boat recreationally?

The regulations only require VMS units to be operating when the boat is engaged in a commercial fishing trip. An operating VMS is not required when the vessel is being used for other activities, such as recreational fishing.

Will I be able to use a Succorfish VMS unit?

The VFA has agreed to assess the suitability of Succorfish units for inclusion as an VFA-approved VMS unit for the abalone fishery. This is on the basis that a number of these units are already operating on boats in this fishery.

This assessment will involve initially trialling the operation of the equipment in the three abalone fishery zones. The focus of the suitability assessment will be ascertaining the reporting coverage of the units, given they operate by mobile phone rather than satellite, and their reliability.

If the VFA is not satisfied the Succorfish units provide adequate coverage and report effectively to the AFMA VMS platform, they will not be approved.

How will the privacy of my data be protected?

The VFA respects the privacy of commercial fisher’s data and treats this information as confidential. Individual information collected is used for compliance and fisheries management purposes and is shared only with external agencies under strict conditions and in accordance with the Fisheries Act 1995.

There are strong legal protections under the Fisheries Act 1995 in place to prevent unauthorised access to or divulging of this information.

AFMA follows and implements measures to counter cyber security threats as directed by the Australian Cyber Security Centre, a division of the Australian Signals Directorate, and has regular independent security audits to ensure its cyber security stays strong and up to date.

All VMS data is stored in Australia at a facility which meets strict Commonwealth government security standards.

For more information on VMS

If you have any questions about VMS, please contact:

VFA Commercial Licencing

L19/1 Spring Street, Melbourne VIC 3000

03 8392 6861