Majuro 11 February 2019: A Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) working group meeting of legal and technical specialists that opens Wednesday in Majuro aims to complete drafting of a new PNA fish aggregating device (FAD) Tracking and Registration Measure.
The three-day working group meeting that runs 13-15 February in the Marshall Islands follows on two one-day workshops in 2018 that initiated the drafting of the FAD measure.
“The plan is for the draft legal text from this working group to be presented to the PNA Officials meeting in Palau in March for review and approval,” said PNA CEO Ludwig Kumoru on the eve of this week’s workshop. “Then it will be presented for final endorsement to PNA Ministers who meet in May.”
Four years ago, PNA Parties agreed in principle to the preparation of a plan requiring FAD buoys to be registered and the tracking information reported to PNA’s Fisheries Information Management System (FIMS), facilitating tracking and monitoring. In addition, the Parties agreed to “upgrade” the program to be a policy document for endorsement by PNA Leaders — work that was initiated through the two FAD workshops last year and is expected to result in a final draft legal text by the end of the three-day FAD session in Majuro this week.
Once formally endorsed, the PNA FAD Tracking and Registration Measure is expected to come into force 1 January 2020 and will govern FAD use in all PNA exclusive economic zones and adjacent waters. “We will also share this at the annual meeting of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission in December,” Mr. Kumoru said of the draft PNA FAD Tracking and Registration Measure. “The PNA Measure will complement initiatives of the WCPFC on FAD design.”
The PNA FAD Tracking and Registration Measure is four years in the making. The PNA Office based in Majuro began tracking and gathering information about FADs four years ago. “We needed to better understand the behavior of FADs, the impact on stocks and the ecosystem, vulnerability of resources, and just how many were out there,” said Mr. Kumoru of the early PNA Office research effort. This produced the estimate that at any given time, 50,000 FADs are in the western and central Pacific Ocean, with hundreds of FADs often associated with an individual purse seiner. This is a significant increase from a few years ago since the introduction of sonar capability to FAD buoys.
“Now we are beginning to appreciate how FADs impact the fishery,” said Mr. Kumoru. He pointed out that rapidly developing technology associated with FADs has changed the dynamics of the fishing industry. Fishing vessels place sonar equipped satellite-linked beacons on FADs in use in PNA waters.
In the past, purse seiners had to physically go to their FADs to check the water under each one by using echo sounders, hand lines, or lights at night to see the species and size composition of schools under the FAD. Then the FADs with promising tuna aggregations would be set on at night or early in the morning.
“Now, they can just fish from the office,” said Mr. Kumoru. Information transmitted from FADs indicates the volume of fish in the water below a FAD, as well as an indication of the species and fish sizes depending upon signal strength and frequency used. “They can look at it on a screen in an office far from the fishing zone and see the fish under the FAD,” he said. “This allows them to estimate the tonnage below a FAD, and then to cherry-pick the FADs for their vessels to fish on. We are moving from hunting to farming.”
This development in FAD technology could potentially make purse seine fishing more productive. And with FADs also linked to undesirable by-catch, it is critical to understand the impact on the resources, as well as the possible implications for PNA’s Vessel Day Scheme, said Mr. Kumoru.
“Without full understanding of the impact of deployed FADs, we are only half-managing our tuna fishery,” said Mr. Kumoru.
The PNA Office has already initiated a FAD registration system as a requirement for vessels to be included in the PNA fishing vessel registry. The draft PNA FAD Tracking and Registration Measure, once endorsed, will take FAD management to the next level.
Key elements that the two PNA FAD workshops held in 2018 proposed for inclusion in the new draft measure include: PNA FAD buoy type approval and registry, mandatory attachment and reporting of electronic buoys, and buoy standards for type approval and requirements for reporting. This is to compliment WCPFC considerations on FAD design and marine debris issues. The draft wording of these provisions in the Measure is to be developed this week during the PNA FAD working group in Majuro.
The PNA FAD working group meeting in Majuro is scheduled to wrap up Friday 15 February.