The course is coaching students in how to handle and analyze VMS and logbook data that cover most of the EU's commercial fishing fleet. Combining the two data sources enables the spatial distribution of continental commercial fisheries and the behaviour of fishermen at sea to be examined and visualized in great detail.
VMS data are obtained through vessels' onboard GPS systems, whilst logbooks contain details of the fish and shellfish landings made on each fishing trip. Both datasets can be combined using the sophisticated functionality available in the package, built using the free software, R.
"That's the interesting thing, there are lots of applications," said Doug Beare, Senior Scientist at WorldFish in Malaysia and workshop co-instructor. "The idea is that we'll be able to do transparent analyses, and then find ways to standardize them between countries, so Britain, for example, can summarize data in exactly the same way as, say, The Netherlands. Both countries can then use the combined data to look, together, at fishing effort patterns, possibly either in a Marine Protected Area or in close proximity to oil rigs or wind farms."
Workshop students, most hailing from EU fisheries institutes, and whose work depends on the software system, will learn the entire VMStools process, from cleaning raw data to making plots and combining VMS and logbook data for more advanced techniques such as allocating fish landing data at higher spatio-temporal resolutions.
VMStools can also help in assessing the effect of human pressures on the marine environment, assisting ventures such as the EU's BENTHIS project. "BENTHIS is about looking at the impact of trawling on the benthic ecosystem," added IMARES Researcher and co-instructor Neil Hintzen. "We use VMS and logbook data combined to calculate where exactly and how many times bottom gears have been hauled across the sea floor."
Hintzen explained more about fishermen's activity. "We get requests at IMARES about allocation of areas in which wind turbines might possibly be built at sea. The fisherman might say, 'well I make my living in this area.' And VMS and logbook data are used jointly to indicate 'objectively' to what extent they are making a living with GPS position accuracy."
With plans to roll out VMStools in the developing world to add to the countries, projects and ICES groups (i.e. WGSFD) that have already adopted it, the appeal of the service in terms of science and otherwise is clear to Hintzen.
"There's quite a large community of people who use VMS and VMStools so there's lots of expertise, flexibility and a lot of transparency on how each of uses these tools," he concluded.