More than 100 NGOs and retailers call for improved management of fish aggregating devices

October 04, 2021


More than a hundred environmental organisations, fishing groups and retailers have signed up to a call for a dramatic improvement in the way in which drifting fish aggregating devices are managed. The list of Minimum Requirements for Responsible Drifting FAD Use, published today by the Blue Marine Foundation, was endorsed by NGOs such as Greenpeace, the International Pole and Line Foundation and the Zoological Society of London, as well as by retailers such as Sainsbury’s, Whole Foods, Marks & Spencer, Migros and Woolworths (South Africa).

The statement calls for increased transparency and improvements in the construction and operation of drifting fish aggregating devices (dFADs) which are deployed in purse seine tuna fisheries around the world in numbers ranging from 81,000 to over 120,000 per year[i]. These numbers are exacerbated by the fact that the loss rate of dFADs in some fisheries is above 90 per cent[ii].

Drifting FADs – which typically consist of a floating raft, submerged materials that hang below the raft, and a satellite buoy that allows fishing vessels to monitor the dFAD from afar – are set out at sea, attracting fish like tuna which congregate around them.

The use of dFADs is coming under increasing scrutiny for its effects on ecosystems, including high levels of bycatch of endangered, threatened and protected marine species, the harvesting of large volumes of juvenile fish, and the contribution to ocean pollution and the associated threats to sensitive coastal habitats.

Jess Rattle, Head of Investigations at Blue Marine Foundation, said: “There is a total lack of responsibility on the part of dFAD owners and operators for the impacts that their FADs have on ocean ecosystems. To counter this, we and over 100 others are calling for increased transparency in dFAD fisheries and strict adherence to the ‘polluter pays’ principle. If these minimum requirements are not met, the only remaining course of action will be a complete moratorium on the use of drifting FADs”.

Despite the growing controversy surrounding the harmful impacts of dFADs, their numbers are nonetheless increasing. In the Indian Ocean alone, a more than four-fold increase in FAD numbers occurred between October 2007 and September 2013[iii].

There is currently uncertainty within the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) – the intergovernmental organisation responsible for the management of tuna stocks in the region – surrounding the status of a management measure put forward by Kenya and several other coastal states which seeks to limit dFAD use in the Indian Ocean. A vote was taken at the last meeting of the IOTC in June but confusion surrounding voting protocols has meant that the measure has not formally been adopted, despite a two-thirds majority having been achieved.

Stephen Ndegwa, Assistant Director of Fisheries for Kenya, said: “After decades of watching subsidised, foreign purse seiners dominate tuna fisheries in the Western Indian Ocean, catching huge quantities of juvenile fish in the process, Kenya and other coastal states called for better FAD management at the June meeting of the IOTC but, despite receiving the necessary votes, our measure has still not formally been adopted. We call on the IOTC to formalise the drifting FADs management measure as soon as possible to save our tropical tuna stocks from further decline.”

Will McCallum, Head of Oceans at Greenpeace, said: “Despite their obvious negative impacts, industry pressure has consistently blocked effective action to curtail the use of dFADs. During the four months we spent in the Indian Ocean this year, we saw how dFADs deployed by European-owned fleets are changing the habitats of the western Indian Ocean at an unprecedented scale, and that urgent reform of dFAD fisheries is now needed”.

The call forms part of a wider report based on the findings of an in-depth FAD symposium earlier in the year which highlighted the growing controversy surrounding dFAD use. The symposium highlighted that dFADs can constitute illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing if they drift on an unauthorized basis into neighbouring exclusive economic zones, marine protected areas or other closed fishing sites.

Linda Wood, Seafood Specialist at Marks & Spencer, said: “We take the sustainability of wild fish stocks and the health and livelihoods of coastal communities very seriously when sourcing our tuna. It is very important that these minimum requirements for drifting FADs be adopted by all purse seine fisheries to ensure that any tuna that reaches UK shelves comes from responsibly-managed fisheries.”

Blue Marine Foundation’s Minimum Requirements for Responsible Drifting FAD Use and the list of 119 endorsing businesses and organisations have been submitted to the IOTC for consideration at its Ad Hoc FAD Working Group meeting which begins today.

The statement and endorsements can be downloaded here


Notes and references:

[i] Gershman, D., Nickson, A., & O’Toole, M. (2015). Estimating the use of FADS around the world. An updated analysis of the number of fish References 23 aggregating devices deployed in the ocean. The Pew Charitable Trusts.

[ii] L Escalle, B Muller, T Vidal, S Hare, P Hamer & the PNA Office (2021) ‘Report on analyses of the 2016/2021 PNA FAD Tracking Programme’ presented at the Seventeenth Regular Session of the Scientific Committee to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC-SC17-2021/MI-IP-04, 24th July 2021).

[iii] Maufroy, A. et al. (2016). Massive increase in the use of drifting Fish Aggregating Devices (dFADs) by tropical tuna purse seine fisheries in the Atlantic and Indian oceans. ICES Journal of Marine Science.

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