Small electronic beacons that are being used by more fishermen could net big fines.

Automatic Identification Systems are attached to fixed gear like nets, longlines and pots and signal the locations via navigation systems, a laptop, even cell phones.  AIS is required for boats over 65 feet and in certain shipping lanes.

But other users, advertisers and sellers are subject to fines of more than $19,000 to $147,000 per day. The reason?

The systems used on fishing gear are not approved by the Federal Communications Commission or the Coast Guard.

“Fishermen were purchasing these and using them but the problem was they weren’t illegal but they weren’t authorized. So the Coast Guard was basically trying to explore how they were going to authorize them or allow them. But it wasn’t authorized for use in Alaskan waters, or actually, U.S. waters.”

                    March 28-30 in Kodiak

Buck Laukitis is a fisherman from Homer and a member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. He says AIS can be a real gear saver.

 “If you’re not sitting on your gear with your vessel either on radar or on your vessel’s AIS somebody comes along doesn’t think there’s any gear in the water in the absence of one of these AIS markers and then, you know, may set over the top of you and tangle. Or potentially a trawler could come and nail your gear and it could result in, you know, substantial financial loses.”

The small AIS buoys transmit a signal without essential navigational safety information and can adversely affect the situational awareness of other boat operators, says Jerry Dzugan, director of the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association.

In crowded areas, the signals create a lot of clutter for vessels to navigate around – is it a vessel they are seeing on their plotter or just a buoy?

Dzugan says it’s especially problematic for large vessels or tugs with a tow that can’t maneuver quickly. But fishermen feel that AIS use is a God send for finding their gear and he predicts a standoff with the FCC and Coast Guard.

Alaska’s Congressional Delegation sent a letter last month to the FCC requesting reconsideration for AIS use by fishermen

Meanwhile, Buck Laukitis advises fishermen to go without the gear beacons and to expect more conflicts on the fishing grounds.

“I don’t think the word’s really gotten out but we’re kinda in a pickle this summer. They’re definitely not going to want to use these AIS beacons given the FCC’s warning. We’re probably going to have a lot more conflicts on the fishing grounds this summer.”

Find links to more AIS info at the US Coast Guard website  –

Thanks to the assist from KMXT in Kodiak.