Nadi, Fiji 11 December, 2016: As many as 50,000 fish aggregating devices (FADs) are likely in use in the western and central Pacific tuna fishery, many of which are equipped with increasingly sophisticated sonar and satellite technology linking FADs to fishing vessels.

   FADs have long been a key part of the tuna fishery, but new technology and a surge in numbers in recent years underscores why the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) is focusing on FAD tracking and management, said Ludwig Kumoru, PNA CEO, following last week’s Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission annual meeting in Fiji.

   Sonar equipment that identifies the size of a school in the vicinity of the FAD is a transformative new technology for the tuna fishery. Despite the apparent increase in FAD use and technology improvements, fisheries managers lack data and information about FADs, said Mr. Kumoru.

   “We’ve been trying to learn more about FADs as we know very little,” PNA Commercial Manager Maurice Brownjohn told media from around the Pacific who were covering the WCPFC annual meeting.

   A FAD is anything fish associate with — ranging from such things as logs or living or dead whales to a man-made raft. “Why they work, no one knows,” said Mr. Brownjohn. “Some work while others don’t, but we know that fish associate with them.”

   Over the past five years, PNA has annually invited industry to declare how many FADs they were going to deploy as part of registering their each vessel. Based on industry and other sources of information, PNA estimated that approximately 30,000 FADs were in use in the region, 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,” Mr. Brownjohn said.

   But the high numbers are only one part of the FAD story and their impact in the PNA fishery. New technology associated with FADs is greatly increasing 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 Mr. 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 Mr. 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.”

   “Sophistication of FADs is causing a dramatic shift in the fishery that will clearly impact management of the fishery going forward,” said Mr. Kumoru. “Right now, we’re monitoring FADs and FAD use.”