FADs affect Hawaii’s fish population
Saltwater anglers have long known that fish can often be found under and around almost anything floating on or near the ocean's surface.
Small fish species find these objects as a place to hide under and multiply, and they in turn attract the attention of larger predator fish looking for a meal.
These floating objects may take the form of kelp paddies in the cold waters off California, or a flotilla of abandoned fishnets, a drifting log or the buoys, known as Fish Aggregation Devices moored around the Hawaiian Islands.
The Honolulu Laboratory of the National Marine Fisheries Service originally anchored a few rafts off Oahu, Lanai, and West Hawaii in 1977 in an attempt to help increase the commercial catch of skipjack tuna (aku).
That experiment was so successful that our state's Department of Land and Natural Resources' Aquatic Resources Division received legislative funding in 1979 to create a statewide system of 26 buoy-like FADs.
This program was taken over by the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology of the University of Hawaii in 1996, which expanded it to include 55 FADs, primarily with federal funding.
There is little question that FADs offer a great benefit to our local sport fishers and charter boat operators in terms of finding fish. Those anglers, however, aren't likely to affect the pelagic fish population as they only catch them one at a time on a rod and reel.
A recent article in the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council newsletter, on the other hand, brought up a much more distressing aspect of FADs.
The WPRFMC reports that commercial purse seiners that catch fish by the thousands have increasingly been using FADs to aggregate skipjack tuna. In fact, about 80 percent of all of the nets set by the U.S. fleet in 2006 were associated with FADs, whereas nearly none were used a decade earlier.
This has unfortunately resulted in the netting of many incidental species, including juvenile bigeye and yellowfin tuna (ahi).
Pacific bigeye tuna are currently in a state of over-fishing, the council warns, and the yellowfin population is approaching an over-fished state. Both conditions, it says, are due to an expansion of FAD-associated purse seine fishing.
The council notes it took initial action in managing the use of FADs at its June 2008 meeting by defining FADs and requiring they be marked with the owner's name and vessel identification. It also is requiring they be registered with the NMFS.
The council plans to revisit this issue, along with many others, at its next meeting in Honolulu, Oct. 14-17, at the Pagoda Hotel.
It plans to consider limiting all FAD-associated purse seine fishing to those with registered FADs within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone of the Western Pacific, or restricting the use of FADs by purse seiners in the EES around American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Hawaii.
The council's four-day meeting will be open to the public. Additional information regarding the meeting's agenda and times can be found on line at wpcouncil.org.