FADs for marine conservation?

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By Elizabeth M. De Santo, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies, Franklin & Marshall College

In a recent Nature News piece, Daniel Cressey discusses the sustainability concerns posed by fish aggregating devices (FADs), drawing on the work of Davies et al., who examined FADs in the Indian Ocean. This is an interesting phenomenon – fishermen increase their catches by floating rafts or other structures that attract fish (and signal their location via radio transmitters), which works because fish are naturally attracted to and congregate under these sheltering structures. However, FADs are poorly regulated, add to overfishing, and their impacts on ecosystems are unknown.

The Nature piece also cites the work Cabral et al., whose research on tuna indicates that FADs increase catch per boat when total fishing pressure is low, but can result in fishery collapse when fishing effort is high. The authors suggest that FADs deployed in no-fishing areas (which they refer to as fish enhancing devices, or FEDs) are gaining popularity as a fisheries management tool in the western Pacific.

This raises a provocative question for those of us working in the field of MPAs and selling their benefits to the fishing community. Should we deploy FEDs in no-take areas as part of MPA planning? Would such devices increase spillover effects or hamper them? Would the fishing community resent conservationists using their tools "against them"? What do others think, based on your experiences and insights in the field? Please comment!