Dr. Laurent Dagorn is a senior scientist working for the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (France). He also serves on the ISSF Scientific Advisory Committee and leads the ISSF Bycatch Project Scientific Steering Committee.
Earlier this week, I was pleased to be able to talk about the research ISSF scientists are doing on FAD management at the EP Intergroup on Climate Change, Biodiversity, and Sustainable Development in Brussels. The meeting, which was hosted by the European Parliament’s Intergroup on Climate Change, Biodiversity & Sustainable Development and held to inform members of the European Parliament about the ongoing work worldwide to more effectively use FADs and implement systems that use the precautionary approach, was an open and interesting exchange of ideas.
Fish aggregating devices (FADs) are floating objects that attract fish, and have been used to catch fish for centuries. Nowadays, the use of FADs has become more important and it is the main fishing mode for purse seiners. However, this very large use of FADs raises concerns, in terms of fishing effort, large proportion of small tunas and some non-targeted species such as sharks
I began my presentation by briefing the group on the importance of collecting data on FAD usage. This allowed me to discuss the FADTrack logbook that ISSF developed to help scientific bodies of RFMOs track the number of objects deployed by fishing vessels and how they’re used in fishing operations.
During the ISSF Bycatch Project – in collaboration with other research endeavors, such as the EU-funded MADE project – our research has obtained 3 main results. First, the threat of shark entanglement in FAD materials is greater than the threat posed by fishing. Therefore we have identified a more eco-friendly FAD that reduces the risk of entanglement and produced a simple guide to help industry implement this FAD construction practice. Advancements like this are important to share with officials who can help advocate for governments to promote the adoption of best practices.
I continued my talk with the idea that sharks caught as bycatch can be released alive from the deck, as long as best practices for proper handling are followed, of course. Taking this step alone can save 10-20% of sharks.
The audience seemed very much intrigued by the third main result – avoid small schools of tuna. The data we have collected shows that if vessels avoid setting their nets on small schools of tuna, they can reduce bycatch by 23-43%.
The conference in Brussels was important to be able to share the results of our work with European leaders and decision-makers. The more we know, and the more we share knowledge, the more effectively fishery managers will be able to regulate FAD fishing and ensure that we move towards better managed and monitoring fishing fleets worldwide. The environmental and ecological impacts of FADs must be reduced. But eliminating the use of FADs could lead to new, unknown practices that may have more serious implications for the marine environment. That’s why it is important to continually research ways to reduce their impact, without eliminating them, by using ecological solutions that depend on the behavior of the fish.