Let’s hope these FADs go out of style quickly

by Guest Blogger

September 8, 2009

Mary Ann Mayo is currently the webbie onboard the Greenpeace ship Esperanza. You can read the posts we’ve already put up (here and here) featuring the amazing work the crew on board the Esperanza is doing as part of the Defending Our Pacific 2009 tour.

I just wanted to share this video with you, as well as a backgrounder on fish aggregating devices (FADs), which you can find below the video.

A Growing FAD

A few days back, we hauled on-board a Fish Aggregating Device (FAD), a device used by purse seiners to attract tuna. A lot of marine life was spared from certain fishy death that day.

We were pleased to see that our FAD expose generated positive comments (after all, we are in the middle of the two-month period when FADs are banned in this area of the Pacific). We also received a few inquiries on how FADs really work. Why are fish attracted to them? What are they made of? Are tuna the only fish that aggregate around these FADs?

So we ´fished´ out some FAD facts and figures. Our ‘haul’ revealed a pretty grim picture. For every 10 kilos of tuna caught, 1 kilogram will be unwanted catch, consisting of juvenile tuna, sharks, turtles, rays and other marine species. In 2005, that amounted to a staggering 100,000 tonnes of by-catch!

In addition, a recent study revealed that these deadly fish magnets affect the behavior of fish, essentially over-riding their natural instincts and even distracting them from their normal migratory paths.

To give you, our readers, a better understanding and additional information about FADs I’ve asked Genevieve Quirk, Greenpeace Oceans Campaigner based in Australia, to explain. Genevieve attended the meeting of the Pacific Tuna Commission scientists last month, and here she shares with us some insights on what transpired at the meeting, and her take on FADs:

Bad, bad FAD

It was astonishing to bear witness to the dirty laundry of the scientific meeting of the Pacific Tuna Commission.

Huge industrial fleets, having fished out their own waters, are now plundering the Pacific. Nets the size of city blocks are used to haul in schools of tuna. High-tech equipment now makes finding fish easy and longlines can extend over 100km!

In this type of fishery, huge amounts of bycatch are caught and thrown back dead or dying. These include endangered sharks, turtles and seabirds.

What a combination — record catches and a projected failure of the conservation measures for the Western and Central Pacific Fishery. It is scandalous that the tuna fishery recorded its highest catch on record this year, when the scientists have been recommending cuts to the overfishing in this fishery for years.

After hours of argument the scientists agreed that 34-50% cut in fishing is needed to protect bigeye tuna stocks. The biggest cut ever!

The raging debate was, however, quiet at one point in the meeting. The scientists were in awe of the research showing climate change would seriously decrease the habitat suitable for survival of tuna. Clearly, a more precautionary cut is needed to conserve the species, and in turn protect the millions of people who rely on them for food and livelihood.

A key solution to combat overfishing is to create marine reserves. They provide a refuge for stock recovery and the preservation of genetic diversity. A global network of marine reserves covering 40% of the world’s oceans is needed to preserve the integrity of our marine ecosystems.

Catching fish the way we do now — through purse seining, longlining and FADs — undermines the viability of the fish stocks, their ecosystem and the fishery itself. The Pacific Tuna Commission must cut fishing by half and set targets that secure a future for stocks, especially, as in these waters pirates take an additional 21-46% of the tuna.

Finally, the scientists presented the alarming facts on Fish Aggregation Devices (FADs), the newest and perhaps the most dangerous new threat to tuna. FADs are fast eroding overfished stocks before they even breed! Smaller yellowfin, bigeye and skipjack tuna were recorded to be caught more with FADs than regular FAD-free purse seining. Yellowfin tuna caught around FADs were, on average, less than half the size of yellowfin netted away from these devices.

It’s not science-speak, but Charles Clover — author of the book (and now movie) “The End of the Line” — summed it up perfectly:

”Killed alongside the skipjack tuna that finds itself in your tin is almost the entire cast list of Finding Nemo”.

An immediate ban on FADs is needed to protect stocks and let tuna live to grow and breed.

What is a FAD?

Blue water or oceanic species have a challenging lifestyle. Unlike most animals they have no shelter from which to hide from predators. They are vulnerable all of the time. Ocean species have many different ways to adapt to the constant threat of predation. Whales are large, jellyfish are transparent and tuna and sharks are fast.

Here’s one of the FADs we pulled out of the water. These devices attract a whole range of marine species, which are then indiscriminately netted.

Objects in the ocean present an opportunity to feed or shelter. Ocean species are biologically programmed to seek both. This is where a cruel trick is played upon the animals in our seas.

FADs can take any form. A log, a piece of net, weighted fishing gear. Any new addition to the ocean domain is attractive.

Fisheries use FADs to attract fish and then encircle them with a net called a purse seine. The net can have an area of multiple city blocks. All species that have sought the shelter of the FAD will be caught. FADs attract not just the target species like tuna but any ocean species.

FADs are often lost and abandoned and can entangle and kill animals. Ghost FADs present an ongoing threat to marine life and also a navigational hazard.

That’s why Greenpeace demands a global ban on FADs: A threat to both the sustainability of fished stocks and the blue water species we love.

Hope this info helped. If you have any questions, ask away in the comments!

-Mary Ann

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