Greenpeace Southeast Asia

FAD Watch (And It’s Not About Trendy Fashion) by Chuck Baclagon

From the Greenpeace Australia Pacific blog

Date: Tuesday, 31 August 2009
Location: High Seas Area 1, Western Pacific Ocean
Weather conditions: Sunny day, clear skies, light breeze
Objective: To look out for FADs

A few days ago, we arrived in the High Seas of the Pacific. Since yesterday, we have been on constant watch, scanning the horizon by day, the radar by night, diligently on the look-out for FADs and fishing boats.

Up in the bridge, Gabriel (one of our dive team, and resident shark expert) was the first to go on FAD watch at 8 in the morning. And, lo and behold, you guessed it … he spotted the very thing we were looking for *ndash; a FAD!

What’s a FAD, you ask?

For the unfamiliar, FAD stands for Fish Aggregating Device. Like a magnet, FADs are designed to attract tuna into an set area. The fish are then caught by industrial purse seiners. These devices not only attract tuna, but also a host of other species such as sharks, turtles and other fish.

These FADs float at sea until they have attracted a sizable enough population of tuna. Once enough tuna are attracted, the fish and all other accumulated marine life is scooped up in a huge net, in one fell swoop. It’s a very wasteful way of fishing.

The irony of the situation is that we have found this FAD right in the middle of a two-month ban, from 1 August to 30 September. The ban was declared by the Pacific Tuna Commission, which manages tuna fishing in the international waters of the region.

So there I was walking around, a sleepy zombie, until I snapped awake when someone told me we’d found a FAD. There was a general hubbub going on around me. Deckies were by the inflatables, getting ready to launch them. The divers were checking their dive equipment and gearing up in the wet room. Breakfast was a distant memory of wolfing down one buttered toast as I hurried to catch the action. It was the same general excitement when I went up the bridge, the campaign team were complete and two binoculars were trained on the bobbing FAD.

The African Queen (one of our inflatable boats) sped to the bobbing FAD. Our divers soon discovered that schools of fish had already gathered around it.

As well as sharks, some of them juvenile too!

Normally, these FADs act like deadly fish magnets. But these critters were spared the usual fate that befalls the marine life lured to them. Instead, it was the FAD itself that we fished out of the water. It turned out to be a floating drum, looking very much like a huge brown crayon, caked with rust, barnacles and containing some small fish annoyed to be (temporarily) taken out of the water.

Finding this FAD was both good and bad at the same time. Good, because we were able to find one and confiscate it, but bad because this is a wasteful practice used by industrial fishing companies to increase their tuna catch, and despite the ban in place, we still found one.

If the use of FADs continues, tuna stocks face a grim future in the region, and other marine life (such as sharks and turtles) will continue to become the unintended casualties of industrial fishing.

For Gabriel, the reward for his early-morning FAD spotting was the chance to get into the water with some of his sharky friends, and to know they are – at least for now – safe from harm.

Images: Greenpeace/Hilton

Mary Ann Mayo

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