The VMS requirements of this section apply throughout the Gulf of Mexico and adjacent states.
(a) General VMS requirement. An owner or operator of a vessel that has been issued a commercial vessel permit for Gulf reef fish, including a charter vessel/headboat issued such a permit even when under charter, must ensure that such vessel has an operating VMS approved by NMFS for use in the Gulf reef fish fishery on board at all times whether or not the vessel is underway, unless exempted by NMFS under the power-down exemptions specified in paragraph (d) of this section and in the NOAA Enforcement Vessel Monitoring System Requirements for the Reef Fish Fishery of the Gulf of Mexico. This NOAA Enforcement Vessel Monitoring System Requirements document is available from NMFS Office for Law Enforcement (OLE), Southeast Region, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701; phone: 800-758-4833. An operating VMS includes an operating mobile transmitting unit on the vessel and a functioning communication link between the unit and NMFS as provided by a NMFS-approved communication service provider. NMFS OLE maintains a current list of approved VMS units and communication providers which is available from the VMS Support Center, NMFS OLE, 8484 Georgia Avenue, Suite 415, Silver Spring, MD 20910 or by calling toll free: 888-219-9228. If a VMS unit approved for the Gulf reef fish fishery is removed from the approved list by NMFS OLE, a vessel owner who purchased and installed such a VMS unit prior to its removal from the approved list will be considered to be in compliance with the requirement to have an approved unit, unless otherwise notified by NMFS OLE. At the end of a VMS unit's service life, it must be replaced with a currently approved unit for the fishery.
(b) Hourly reporting requirement. An owner or operator of a vessel subject to the requirements of paragraph (a) of this section must ensure that the required VMS unit transmits a signal indicating the vessel's accurate position at least once an hour, 24 hours a day every day unless exempted under paragraphs (c) or (d) of this section.
(c) In-port exemption. While in port, an owner or operator of a vessel with a type-approved VMS unit configured with the 4-hour reporting feature may utilize the 4-hour reporting feature rather than comply with the hourly reporting requirement specified in paragraph (b) of this section. Once the vessel is no longer in port, the hourly reporting requirement specified in paragraph (b) of this section applies. For the purposes of this section, “in port” means secured at a land-based facility, or moored or anchored after the return to a dock, berth, beach, seawall, or ramp.
(d) Power-down exemptions. An owner or operator of a vessel subject to the requirement to have a VMS operating at all times as specified in paragraph (a) of this section can be exempted from that requirement and may power down the required VMS unit if -
(1) The vessel will be continuously out of the water or in port, as defined in paragraph (c) of this section, for more than 72 consecutive hours;
(2) The owner or operator of the vessel applies for and obtains a valid letter of exemption from NMFS OLE VMS personnel as specified in the NOAA Enforcement Vessel Monitoring System Requirements for the Reef Fish Fishery of the Gulf of Mexico. This is a one-time requirement. The letter of exemption must be maintained on board the vessel and remains valid for all subsequent power-down requests conducted consistent with the provisions of paragraphs (d)(3) and (4) of this section.
(3) Prior to each power-down, the owner or operator of the vessel files a report to NMFS OLE VMS program personnel, using the VMS unit's email, that includes the name of the person filing the report, vessel name, vessel U.S. Coast Guard documentation number or state registration number, commercial vessel reef fish permit number, vessel port location during VMS power down, estimated duration of the power down exemption, and reason for power down; and
(4) The owner or operator enters the power-down code through the use of the VMS Declaration form on the terminal and, prior to powering down the VMS, receives a confirmation, through the VMS terminal, that the form was successfully delivered.
(e) Declaration of fishing trip and gear. Prior to departure for each trip, a vessel owner or operator must report to NMFS any fishery the vessel will participate in on that trip and the specific type(s) of fishing gear, using NMFS-defined gear codes, that will be on board the vessel. This information may be reported to NMFS using the toll-free number, 888-219-9228, or via an attached VMS terminal.
(f) Installation and activation of a VMS. Only a VMS that has been approved by NMFS for the Gulf reef fish fishery may be used, and the VMS must be installed by a qualified marine electrician. When installing and activating the NMFS-approved VMS, or when reinstalling and reactivating such VMS, the vessel owner or operator must -
(1) Follow procedures indicated on a NMFS-approved installation and activation checklist for the applicable fishery, which is available from NMFS Office for Law Enforcement, Southeast Region, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701; phone: 800-758-4833; and
(2) Submit to NMFS Office for Law Enforcement, Southeast Region, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701, a statement certifying compliance with the checklist, as prescribed on the checklist.
(3) Submit to NMFS Office for Law Enforcement, Southeast Region, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701, a vendor-completed installation certification checklist, which is available from NMFS Office for Law Enforcement, Southeast Region, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701; phone: 800-758-4833.
(g) Interference with the VMS. No person may interfere with, tamper with, alter, damage, disable, or impede the operation of the VMS, or attempt any of the same.
(h) Interruption of operation of the VMS. When a vessel's VMS is not operating properly, the owner or operator must immediately contact NMFS Office for Law Enforcement, Southeast Region, 263 13th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33701, phone: 800-758-4833, and follow instructions from that office. If notified by NMFS that a vessel's VMS is not operating properly, the owner and operator must follow instructions from that office. In either event, such instructions may include, but are not limited to, manually communicating to a location designated by NMFS the vessel's positions or returning to port until the VMS is operable.
(i) Access to position data. As a condition of authorized fishing for or possession of fish in a fishery subject to VMS requirements in this section, a vessel owner or operator subject to the requirements for a VMS in this section must allow NMFS, the USCG, and their authorized officers and designees access to the vessel's position data obtained from the VMS.