Pacific Islands encouraged to increase use of FADs

13 Aug 2015
A commercial fishing haul in the Pacific Island nation of Kiribati. Credit: AusAID/CC BY 2.0

A commercial fishing haul in the Pacific Island nation of Kiribati. Credit: AusAID/CC BY 2.0

Pacific Island countries are being encouraged to increase the use of fish aggregating devices (FADs) to improve the supply of fish in the region, reports David Hayes.

The use of anchored, nearshore FADs is widely recognised as being one of the few practical ways of increasing the tuna catches of small-scale fishers. In the Pacific Islands region, greater local catches of tuna are needed to help supply the fish required by growing urban and rural populations. 

Already more than 300 anchored nearshore and offshore FADs are in use among various Pacific Island countries. Many more will be needed in the future. However, considerable planning, monitoring and research must be done to enable the full benefits of nearshore FADs to be harnessed. 

Research
In a recent paper published in the journal Marine Policy 56 (2015), a research team led by Conservation International and the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security (ANCORS) at the University of Wollongong has identified the various investments required to establish nearshore FADs as part of the regional infrastructure for food security. These investments need to be considered by Pacific Island governments and their development partners. 

“There are healthy stocks of skipjack and yellowfin tuna in the region. Nearshore FADs are a cost-effective way of increasing access to these fish for Pacific Island communities,” observes Johann Bell, a Visiting Professor at ANCORS and lead author of Optimising the use of nearshore fish aggregating devices for food security in the Pacific Islands.

“FADs increase the chances of small-scale fishers catching tuna and improve the supply of fish for growing populations. Pacific Island governments can improve the supply of nutritious food by allocating more of their tuna resources for local consumption and investing in nearshore FADs.”

Fish forms a much greater part of the diet of people living in the Pacific Islands region than it does for those inhabiting most other areas of the world. Fish typically accounts for 50% to 90% of the animal protein intake for coastal Pacific communities and in ten Pacific Island countries fish consumption exceeds 70kg per person a year.

Due to the scarcity of arable land and the shortages of alternative sources of animal protein, Pacific Island governments have been encouraged by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community to provide access to at least 35kg of fish per capita annually, which is twice the global average, or to help maintain higher traditional levels of fish consumption.

Coastal fisheries
In addition to industrial tuna fishing by modern foreign fleets that harvest about 1.5 million metric tons a year mostly for the global export market, Pacific Islands also have a traditional coastal fisheries sector that is estimated to produce about 150,000 metric tons a year across all countries and territories combined.

Most fish consumed in the Pacific Islands are caught by small-scale subsistence fishers around coral reefs. However, much of the additional fish needed by growing populations will need to come from tuna and other large pelagic fish captured around nearshore FADs, the research team say.

According to fishing industry figures some 313 FADs devices were in use by small scale fishers among 22 Pacific Island countries (not including Papua New Guinea) at the end of 2014, consisting of 212 nearshore FADs and some 101 offshore devices.

Although most of the FADs are used by small scale fishers, a small number of FADs are shared by industrial fishing fleets or with tourism-related spear fishing enterprises.

Fiji has deployed the most FADs with 54 in use, followed by French Polynesia with some 53 sub-surface FADs anchored at depths ranging from 1,200 to 2,600 metres at locations ranging from 1 to 10 nautical miles from shore.

Vanuatu has 29 surface and subsurface FADs in use, the Solomon Islands has 22, while the Federated States of Micronesia has deployed 16 mostly sub-surface FADs.

Elsewhere among the Pacific Islands, some 15 FADs are in use in the Cook Islands while Guam and Samoa have 14 each, and Kiribati 13.

Additional FADs
According to the research team, Pacific Islands will need to deploy FADs at more than 200 additional sites to help ensure adequate fish supplies for both rural and urban populations.

The team also highlighted the planning, monitoring and research needed to identify locations that will yield good catches, and the communities that are best placed to integrate use of FADs with other livelihood activities.

This will depend on close consultation with communities to identify needs and obtain assurances that they will assist fisheries agencies to install and maintain FADs.

Nearshore FADs will be particularly important for coastal communities with limited access to coral reefs, little scope for pond aquaculture, and few options to produce other sources of protein.

Catches around nearshore FADs will need to be monitored to improve their design and placement, and to assess whether the existing exclusion zones for industrial fleets around Pacific Islands are large enough to provide adequate access to tuna for small-scale fishers.

Nearshore FADs also have potential to assist with the management of coral reefs by providing small-scale fishers with alternative fishing opportunities. As a result, transferring some the current fishing effort from capturing reef fish to tuna is expected to ease pressure on coral reef ecosystems and help them adapt to the effects of climate change.

Short supply
Pacific Island countries planning to install more FADs in future include some where fish are in short supply in major urban centres only and others facing a countrywide fish supply shortage in future, which plan to deploy new FADs to increase the total national marine fish catch.

In countries where limited fish supplies in urban centres are a problem due to transport and logistics limitations preventing fish from being delivered from traditional fishing areas to high demand urban centres, FADs will be deployed at suitable coastal sites close to urban areas to solve the fish supply shortage affecting nearby town populations.

Among countries planning to invest in more FADs to increase coastal fisheries production, Papua New Guinea is expected to install 104 of the planned new nearshore FADS at around 24 sites to tackle an expected shortage in fish supply, while Fiji is expected to install 40 new FADS at eight sites.

In addition 12 other Pacific Island countries and territories will install from five to eight new FADS each as part of efforts to increase fish supplies in future.