The use of man-made fish aggregation devices (FADs) has become an increasingly important component of the fishing strategies of tuna purse seine fleets across most ocean basins since the mid-1990s. Fishing on FADs offers a number of advantages over fishing on free schools of tuna. In particular, catch rates of tuna are typically higher, the practice of encircling the fish is operationally easier (leading to fewer unsuccessful or ‘skunk’ sets) and the aggregative nature of FADs combined with the ability to track the location of FADs makes fishing more predictable and can reduce both time and money spent searching for fish. The increasing use of FADs has been paralleled and facilitated by substantial improvements in FAD buoy technology. Anecdotal information suggests the widespread availability and uptake of sophisticated echosounder technology is causing rapid changes in fishing strategy and fleet behaviour, with the potential to be a ‘gamechanger’ for purse seine fisheries and their management.
Despite the acknowledged importance of FADs in the operation of modern purse seine fisheries, our understanding of FAD usage and impacts in the WCPO was patchy. Good information existed on the number of FAD sets and associated species composition through logbooks and observer reports, however limited information was available on the total number of FADs deployed within the WCPO as well as FAD distribution and density. There was also a limited understanding of many of the operational aspects of FAD use by industry including the logistics of deployment and FAD ownership, trading and leasing arrangements.
In that context, the PNA (through FFA, and with funding through the World Bank Ocean Partnerships Project) contracted MRAG Asia Pacific to undertake an assessment of FAD usage and future management options in the WCPO. The overall objectives of the assignment were to consolidate existing information on FAD usage in the WCPO and to evaluate options to constitute a future PNA adaptive FAD management scheme.
The project was broadly structured in three sequential phases: