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The Philippines to Track Fishing Vessels in Real-time

Exerting and maintaining control over a vast maritime area is not an easy job. To better cope with the vagaries and challenges, the Philippine Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources is deploying a host of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).

The Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) has implemented the Integrated Marine Environment Monitoring System (IMEMS) Project. The initiative aims to enhance the government’s capability in the monitoring, control, and surveillance system over its maritime domain while intensifying the campaign against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Given the archipelago’s thousands of islands and shores, monitoring fishing vessels can be a monumental task. To bridge that gap, IMEMS is using technology. The IMEMS project is an innovative, optimised, and integrated monitoring system that expands and improves the DA-BFAR’s current program. At the heart of the project is ICT.

With the IMEMS project, the DA-BFAR can now track and communicate with Philippine-flagged fishing vessels in real-time on a national scale. Doing so integrates communication, licensing, and law enforcement functionalities to ensure compliance with various conservation and management measures being implemented in Philippine waters, exclusive economic zones (EEZ), and other coastal states.

Implementing the IMEMS project gives us the opportunity to benefit from technological innovations for more improved fisheries management practices while empowering our fishers to become responsible resource users.

– Cheryl Natividad-Caballero, Undersecretary, Agriculture for Agri-Industrialisation and Fisheries

The project is part of Agriculture Secretary William Dar’s key strategies to level up the development in the agriculture and fishery sector dubbed the “One DA Approach,” which seeks to harness ICT- enabled advisory services and vessel monitoring systems to effectively connect farmers and fisherfolk in the regional and global value-chain, Caballero added.

Under the new project, the DA-BFAR is currently constructing six of the 15 Port and Coastal Monitoring System-Type 1 (PCMS-Type 1) towers. Moreover, it has installed 25 of 117 coast stations (PCMS-Type 2) in identified sites across the country.

These control towers and coastal monitoring devices are set to feed real-time data on commercial fishing vessel activities to the Bureau’s National Data Center in Navotas City, now operational since 2020.

The National Data Centre will be in charge of data processing and analytics, including integrated vessel tracking, license management, Enhancing Local Government Operations through e-Governance (E-LOG), and automated detection of illegal, unreported, and unregulated activities.

Moreover, the system also collects relevant oceanographic, meteorological, and fish catch data that can be used for quick response, disaster recovery, scientific research, and climate change mitigation measures.

Using a low-cost technology that combines terrestrial and satellite systems on vessel data collection, the IMEMS ensures that the data gathered from fishing vessels are secured using up-to-date encryption technology and are made accessible to DA-BFAR partners to ensure data transparency.

Under the newly amended FAO 266, all commercial fishing vessels with more than 3.1 gross tonnages, operating in domestic waters, in the High Seas, and in other distant waters are now required to install VMS-100 transceivers in their vessels. The DA-BFAR targets to install around 5,000 Vessel Monitoring Systems in commercial fishing vessels in the near future.

Digital transformation has been at the heart of innovation in the Philippines. It is benefiting the archipelago enormously too. It’s not just the maritime domain. For instance, the Bureau of Customs has reaped huge rewards as it prioritised digital adoption during the pandemic. The agency was able to collect more taxes on export and import compared to pre-pandemic times, thanks to its digitalisation. In short, even with all the constraints brought by the virus, the agency improved its numbers.


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