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Monitoring, Control and Surveillance

REPORT: Strengthening Monitoring, Control and Surveillance in ABNJ


Monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) is critical for the success of marine conservation and management, but effective MCS remains challenging. This is especially true for the deep and distant waters of marine areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ), which are characterised by a fragmented governance framework and reliance on flag States to ensure control over vessels. 

A range of existing international instruments, institutions and guidelines are relevant to MCS in ABNJ, while traditional approaches to MCS – onboard observers, logbooks and surveillance planes – are increasingly being supplemented by a range of innovative new technological tools. There is a growing interest in how MCS tools and policies can contribute to the management of this vast global commons. 

The BBNJ negotiations therefore provide an important opportunity to learn from the wealth of experience gained to date and strengthen existing provisions, thereby facilitating harmonised and efficient MCS that can ultimately ensure effective implementation of rules on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity.

Most existing MCS rules were developed in the context of fisheries management. This is reflected in early definitions of MCS, which focus on monitoring of fishing effort and resource yields, controlling fishing activity with regulations, and conducting surveillance to ensure compliance with such regulations. However, MCS has a range of applications including: 

  • Monitoring of human activities (e.g. in the form of data collection and reporting); 
  • Control of human activities and their impacts on marine biodiversity (e.g. through regulation, licensing, and controls on how, where and when activities in the ocean take place); 
  • Surveillance of vessels (e.g. through observer programmes and electronic surveillance systems); 
  • Encouraging compliance with regulations through transparency, sanctions, and other measures (e.g. sustainability certification schemes); 
  • Enforcement actions, e.g. to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and transnational illegal activities, such as human trafficking, forced labour, and trafficking in arms, drugs and wildlife. 

MCS can therefore be broadly conceived as encompassing a wide range of tools, technologies and policies that aim to promote compliance and ensure the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources. 

In relation to MCS, the Performance Assessment Criteria encourage flag States to implement a control regime that includes, as a minimum: 

  • Legal authority to take control of vessels; 
  • An up-to-date record of vessels; Monitoring tools, e.g. vessel monitoring systems (VMS), logbooks and observers; 
  • Mandatory reporting requirements; 
  • An inspection regime at sea and at port. 

Moreover, flag States are encouraged to have in place an enforcement regime, which includes: 

  • Capacity to detect and take enforcement action with respect to violations; 
  • Authority and capacity to take enforcement action and conduct timely investigations of violations; 
  • An appropriate system for the acquisition, collection, preservation and maintenance of the integrity of evidence; 
  • A system of sanctions of sufficient “severity to be effective in securing compliance and to discourage violations, and deprive offenders of benefits accruing from their illegal activities” (including removal of authorisation for a vessel involved in the commission of a serious offence); 
  • Cooperation with other States; 
  • Promotion of knowledge and understanding of MCS within national legal and administrative systems.