Smart fishing nets are hailing ships by call sign

The Automatic Identification Systems-equipped fishing net problem seems to be increasing exponentially and constitutes ‘an accident waiting to happen’, according to The Nautical Institute. The picture above was taken on a recent trip from Shanghai to Busan showing a multitude of AIS targets, most of which are fishing nets.

The problem is highlighted in a recent Mars Report as compiled (anonymously) by The Nautical Institute. The recent-model AIS receiver of the vessel responsible for the picture above can show up to 1000 contacts, but still it is overloaded. It appears that these “smart” fishing nets are now hailing ships by call sign and/or MMSI number over VHF channel 16, with an automated voice giving its bearing and position and telling vessels to keep clear. But as The Nautical Institue points out, which AIS target is it?

According to Laura Kovary of Environmental Maritime Services, the problem particularly occurs in the East China Sea and is not a fault of the AIS, but the inappropriate use of the technology by local fishermen. They use it to make sure ships stay away from their nets. However, as there are so many of them, ships’ systems become overloaded and cannot discern anymore what is a vessel and what is not.

The sale, purchase and use of such non-compliant devices including AIS Fish Net Buoys are banned in the U.S. In China, such a ban does not exist, however.

Readers are requested to submit their anecdotes or experiences with “smart” AIS-equipped fishing nets.

Mars Reports

This accident was covered in the Mars Reports, originally published as Mars 202023, that are part of Report Number 330. A selection of this Report has also been published in SWZ|Maritime’s May 2020 issue. The Nautical Institute compiles these reports to help prevent maritime accidents. That is why they are also published on SWZ|Maritime’s website.

More reports are needed to keep the scheme interesting and informative. All reports are read only by the Mars coordinator and are treated in the strictest confidence. To submit a report, please use the Mars report form.

Author: Mariska Buitendijk

Mariska Buitendijk is one of SWZ|Maritime's journalists as well as the magazine's copy editor.