Tens of thousands of fish aggregating devices (FADs) are deployed every year by the world's tuna purse-seine vessels. These artificial structures function as open-ocean “meeting places,” attracting schools of various species that gather beneath them. It is generally believed that fish seek these objects for protection, feeding opportunities, and to increase survival of eggs, larvae, and juveniles. The devices can drift for months at a time and attract a wide variety of marine life, including tuna, sharks, billfish, and sea turtles.
Purse-seine vessels set their nets on FADs, scooping up everything around them and keeping only the tuna; the “bycatch” is thrown overboard, often dead. Unfortunately, use of these devices is highly unregulated, laying waste to a wide array of marine species.
Many consumers and retailers are going “FAD-free,” until fisheries that use this equipment are managed responsibly.
Responsible use of FADs would require:
- reporting data on their use to the appropriate management bodies;
- having a certified fisheries observer aboard all vessels using FADs;
- obliging all countries with FAD fisheries to develop consistent management plans.
FAD fisheries for tuna have increased “efficiency”—meaning more fish are caught with less effort. However, the uncontrolled proliferation of these drifting devices in the world's oceans poses a major ecological problem for several reasons:
- high levels of bycatch (sharks, billfish, juvenile tuna, etc.) are associated with FAD use;
- the scale of use is vast: tens of thousands of FADs are deployed every year;
- FADs have unknown impacts on the ocean ecosystem; drifting FADs can be potentially harmful marine debris.
Currently, these concerns are not comprehensively or effectively addressed by the respective regional management bodies and governments, and FAD fisheries continue to be dangerously unregulated. FAD-free canned tuna, such as pole-and-line and “free school” tuna, has a smaller ecological impact and is less damaging to the marine environment. Many retailers have taken the initiative to ensure their canned tuna products are more sustainably caught, without the use of FADs.