As many as 50,000 fish aggregating devices (FADs) are in use in the western and central Pacific tuna fishery, many of which are equipped with increasingly sophisticated sonar and satellite technology linked directly to fishing vessels, according to the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA).
FADs have long been a key part of the tuna fishery and can be anything that fish associate with – ranging from as logs or living or dead whales to a man-made raft – but new technology and a surge in numbers in recent years has underscored PNA’s focus on FAD tracking and management, said Ludwig Kumoru, CEO of PNA.
Sonar equipment that identifies the size of a school in the vicinity of the FAD is a transformative new technology for the tuna fishery. But despite the apparent increase in FAD use and technology improvements, fisheries managers lack data and information about FADs, said Kumoru.
Over the past five years, PNA has annually invited the tuna industry to declare how many FADs it is going to deploy as part of the registering process for each vessel. Based this and other sources of information, PNA estimated that approximately 30,000 FADs were in use in the region, equating to about 100 FADs per purse seine fishing vessel in the region. But in the past year, a new survey of FADs showed a big jump in the numbers, with some fleets declaring hundreds of FADs per vessel.
“We’ve revised upward to 50,000 our estimate of FADs in use in the fishery,” said Maurice Brownjohn, commercial manager at PNA.
PNA said the high numbers are only one part of the FAD story and their impact in the PNA fishery, because the new technology associated with FADs is greatly increasing the efficiency of purse seiners.
“With the sonar technology on FADs linked with satellite communications, fishing fleet managers can sit in an office, look at a screen and see how much fish is under their many FADs,” said Brownjohn. “The sonar provides an estimate of the biomass under the FAD.”
With this information, purse seiners no longer need to check multiple FADs for fish. Instead, they can target the highly productive FADs where most tuna congregate based on data provided by sonar equipment, said Brownjohn.
“This increases the efficiency of the operation,” he said. “So it’s gone from a fishing operation which is hunting to a farming operation where it is like cherry-picking.”
Kumoru added that the sophistication of FADs is causing “a dramatic shift” in the fishery that will clearly impact its management going forward.
“Right now, we’re monitoring FADs and FAD use,” he said.
PNA comprises eight members: Federated States of Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu.