Majuro 29 November 2018 — With fish aggregating devices (FADs) playing an increasingly important role in the purse seine fishery in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean, the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) is stepping up its FAD management and tracking program.

   Although not all are used, there are an estimated 50,000 to 80,000 FADs deployed in PNA waters annually. The increasing technological sophistication of FADs in the purse seine fishery allows fleets to “cherry pick” FADs to set on through centralized monitoring systems that direct purse seine vessels to particular FADs, eliminating the need for vessels to visit individual FADs in search of schools of tuna. This allows fishing vessels to focus fishing on FADs with the largest schools, which has implications for tuna stocks and management of the fishery.

   “PNA has successfully managed the purse seine fishery through its vessel day scheme (VDS) and associated conservation and management rules,” said PNA CEO Ludwig Kumoru. “From a management point of view, until recently FADs were a mostly unknown quantity in the fishery. PNA’s aim is to ensure effective management of FADs because of their big impact on the fishery.”

   The major role FADs play in the purse seine fishery and their increasing sophistication led PNA two years ago to initiate a FAD tracking program, the first of its kind for the fishery. Earlier this year, PNA leaders tasked fisheries ministers with developing “measures to reduce bycatch including the improvement of the management of FAD fishing.” This led ministers to approve in principle a policy “requiring FAD buoys to be registered and report to FIMS (PNA’s Fisheries Information Management System).” This directive from PNA ministers led to FAD workshops in Brisbane in June and in Honiara in late October to “upgrade” the FAD program to a policy document to be endorsed by PNA leaders. 

   PNA is currently advancing FAD management work to:

   • Improve reporting of the current FAD tracking trial through the Fisheries Information Management System.

   • Integrate FAD log sheets with electronic reporting by fisheries observers.

   • Develop a PNA FAD buoy tracking and registration measure.

   • Address ecological issues associated with FADS, including FAD retrieval and liability for beaching of FADs.

   PNA is facing push-back from industry as it expands its FAD tracking and management program. “PNA is seeing a concerted effort by both industry and distant water fishing nations to get the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and other global processes to take greater control of FAD regulation to reduce PNA control,” said Mr. Kumoru. “This is unacceptable to PNA as the resource rights holders in the fishery in our waters.”

   FAD-related issues are expected to be one of many items on the agenda of the annual meeting of the WCPFC in Honolulu from December 10-14.

   Mr. Kumoru pointed out that about 90 percent of purse seine FAD sets conducted in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean are made in PNA waters. Still, while fishing on FADs is a major component of the purse seine industry in PNA waters, over half of the catch in PNA waters is taken on “free schools” — tuna not associated with FADs.

   Stock assessments and scientific research indicates that there is little difference between FAD and free school catches in terms of impact on the skipjack and yellowfin tuna stocks. But, said Mr. Kumoru, fishing on FADs has a substantial impact on the state of bigeye tuna, which has in the past been on the borderline of over-fishing.

   “Largely because of PNA’s annual FAD moratorium, a much lower share of the catch in this region is taken by fishing on FADs,” said Mr. Kumoru. “It is likely that this contributes to the more positive status overall of the major Western and Central Pacific Ocean tropical tuna stocks.”

   Mr. Kumoru added that PNA’s FAD closure has been “surprisingly effective in reducing bigeye tuna catches. This likely contributes substantially to the healthy status of the bigeye stock.”

   In addition to issues of technological sophistication of FADs, preliminary findings by fisheries scientists with the Pacific Commission (SPC) indicate that high densities of FADs may cause a reduction in FAD fishery catch rates, which has economic implications for both industry and PNA’s management of FADs.

   Mr. Kumoru said despite pressure from industry and others, PNA is moving forward to expand and development its FAD management program for the benefit of the fishery in the region. “We can see the benefits of reduced FAD fishing through well monitored and enforced FAD closures,” said Mr. Kumoru. The annual moratorium on using FADs in PNA waters is backed up by the comprehensive PNA FAD tracking program, which is the world’s only region-wide FAD tracking program, he said.

   “The additional measures that PNA is now working on will further strengthen FAD management in PNA waters and the Western and Central Pacific Ocean,” said Mr. Kumoru.