AIS fishing net buoys aren’t expensive — $47 to $199 from most online retailers. Most of them come from China, and while many aren’t really “buoys,” they seem like a good idea. Marking your net with a radio beacon allows you to keep track of it in any condition.

Well, guess what, you and the outfit that sold you the AIS fishing net buoy, as well as the manufacturer, could all be subject to a per-day fine up to $19,639. If you persist in using AIS fishing net buoys or marketing them, you could be looking at a fine up to $147,290. That would buy a lot of fishing nets.

Here’s the problem, as mentioned in the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association newsletter in early December: Devices like AIS fishing net buoys have not been certified by the Federal Communications Commission and are illegal. They transmit a signal without essential navigational safety information, which can adversely affect the situational awareness of vessel operators.

The FCC seems very committed to getting AIS fishing net buoys out of the water and off the market. An FCC bulletin dated Nov. 28, 2018, says:

Anyone advertising or selling these noncompliant fishing net buoys or other noncompliant AIS devices should stop immediately, and anyone owning such devices should not use them. Sellers, advertisers, and operators of noncompliant AIS equipment may be subject to substantial monetary penalties.

The only devices allowed to use AIS frequencies are Class A and Class B shipboard equipment, AIS Search and Rescue Transmitters, and Maritime Survivor Locating Devices.

Even if you have a certified AIS device, it shouldn’t be used for a fishing net buoy because its purpose is vessel safety or personal rescue. Equipment for tracking nets is authorized only when it operates in the 1,900 to 2,000 KHz band, not AIS frequencies, and they cannot be advertised as AIS approved.

Michael Crowley is the former Boats & Gear editor for National Fisherman.

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