The IUU Nature of FADs: Implications for Tuna Management and Markets
World tuna catches reached 5.2 million metric tons in 2018, more than doubling since the early 1990s, primarily due to the introduction of Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs). The widespread use of drifting FADs has increased the economic efficiency of the fleet by making it easier to aggregate and locate tuna schools, but at a high ecological cost, including: significant catches of juvenile tunas; bycatch of endangered, threatened and protected species; and “ghost fishing,” marine pollution, and sensitive habitat destruction by abandoned FADs. Recent analysis indicates that most deployed FADs are eventually lost, stolen, beached, or abandoned, continuing their destructive impacts. This paper examines the legal regime, market forces, and other factors that frame FAD use. We demonstrate that, because deployed FADs are legally considered to be fishing, when they drift into closed areas or otherwise contravene national or international agreements or regulations, they are Illegal, Unreported, and/or Unregulated (IUU); vessels using such FADs are therefore IUU. We suggest that introducing a transparent FAD ownership tracking system and requiring FAD owners to mitigate their impacts could substantially improve the effectiveness of tuna Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) and redirect market incentives to properly support tuna management.