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Protecting Deep Reefs: Correlating Deep Coral Locations with VMS Data on Fishing Locations

Project Goal

To determine if Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) data can be used to determine fishing impacts on deep-sea coral reefs.

Geographic Location

U.S. South Atlantic


NOAA Law Enforcement records VMS data on certain commercial fishing vessels in the U.S. South Atlantic. Sites known to have deep coral have been recorded by NOAA scientists and others for many years. This project aimed to combine these two data sets to determine deep-sea coral areas most susceptible to damage from bottom-impacting fishing activities. This process was complicated by the fact that proprietary information, such as types of fishing permits, is safeguarded in VMS records. The only data available for this project was vessel location and the time the location was recorded. Vessel activity (e.g., fishing or transiting) must be interpreted from speeds deduced from sequential VMS records. Therefore, it is challenging to separate vessels conducting activities which could damage deep-sea corals from those which have no impact.


Maps of deep-sea coral locations and vessel activity were created using a 10x10 nautical mile grid system to avoid disclosing proprietary information on possible fishing locations of commercial vessels. Efforts to remove non-threatening vessel activities from the dataset continue, as well as overtures to work with other researchers who have greater access to the VMS datasets.

Importance to Management

This project will show managers how VMS systems used by law enforcement and Geographic Information Systems used by scientists to mark deep-sea coral locations have the potential to be merged and indicate deep-sea coral reefs most susceptible to damage by certain fishing methods.

Fiscal Year 2010 Funding


Point of Contact

Andrew David, Andy.David@noaa.gov