Designs That Reduce Maritime Debris from Fishing Devices Evolve Faster When Fishing Masters and Scientists Collaborate

Written by on May 2, 2017 in Editor's Choice, Fish, Other News

By Gala Moreno, Ph.D.
Scientific Researcher, International Seafood Sustainability Foundation

Let’s say you make your living in the commercial tuna fishery. You’ve noticed that the fish you pursue tend to gather around random free-floating objects—driftwood trees, for instance.

You might decide to improve on the natural order of things and deploy a fish-attracting object of your own. You’d make it interesting for marine life, with submerged ropes, netting or sheets of canvas dangling from a raft or float. Then you’d tag it with a tracking device and set it free to drift with the currents.

And there you’d have it: a fish-aggregating device (FAD) you can visit at will to boost your chances of finding a patch of ocean where the fishing is good.

FADs can make fishing vessels more productive, and that’s essential in a world where almost a billion people lack the protein they need to lead healthy lives. But rising productivity comes at a cost. Often FADs are crafted from durable materials like PVC pipe, nylon nets and synthetic rope. Materials from lost or abandoned FADs eventually disperse, sink or wash ashore. As a result, researchers have documented a steady rise in reef damage, ocean-floor litter, and floating pollutants, all involving long-lived plastic debris.

In response, scientists at the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) are investigating alternative, low-impact FAD structures. But we don’t presume that we have all the answers. After all, professional fishing crews build and deploy FADs, and they spend their lives observing tuna up close. So it’s standard ISSF practice to bring scientists and fishers together as problem-solving partners.

Today's materials are too long lasting. Check out the full infographic from ISSF here.

Today’s materials are too long lasting. Check out the full infographic from ISSF here.

Last fall, we convened the world’s first workshop on biodegradable FAD (or BFAD) design. Fishing masters from fleets operating in all of the world’s oceans joined our scientists around the table at Spain’s Donostia/San Sebastian Aquarium, exchanging ideas and exploring the possibilities of natural FAD materials.

We explained how certain natural alternatives compare with manmade materials in terms of price, durability, resistance to bio-fouling and other factors. Then we formed mixed teams of fishers and scientists and challenged each to develop a workable BFAD design for a specific set of conditions.

To qualify as biodegradable, a BFAD would have to decompose much more quickly and completely than a device built with synthetic materials or metal—but only after functioning reliably for six months to a year.

The accompanying illustrations show the designs that emerged from the workshop. Later this year, in collaboration with European-based fishing fleets, ISSF plans to deploy working models in the western Indian Ocean. After monitoring them for a year, we’ll expand the tests to other fishing grounds and publish our results. Finally, once sustainable materials prove their effectiveness, we’ll encourage the industry to adopt them wherever FADs are used.

As always, the fishing professionals were exceptionally generous with their time and expertise. Not only did they sacrifice precious days ashore, but they also shared valuable insights that they usually guard much more closely, even among their peers.

The workshop confirmed our belief that no single discipline or profession has all the answers. Both empirical knowledge hard-won by fishers and theoretical understanding accumulated by scientists are worthy of respect—and both will bring us closer to protection for vulnerable species. Working together, we’re converging on solutions to the sustainability equation.

About ISSF

The International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) enables sustainability through science and collaboration. As scientists, industry leaders and environmental champions, we share concerns about the future of global tuna fisheries and a desire to do something about it.

About Gala Moreno
Dr. Moreno’s research focuses on the effects of fish aggregating devices (FADs) on tuna and their ecosystems, and on discovering ways to reduce FAD impacts. She has worked with purse-seine fishers from the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, absorbing their knowledge of tuna behavior and fishing strategies, for almost 20 years.

Copyright © 2017 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

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