They look small and harmless but Fish Aggregating Devices are the hidden killers of ocean life. Better knows as FADs, the fishing traps are used to attract schools of fish in the open sea. Typically constructed from old plastic containers, bottles and vegetation, FADs create a shadow on the surface of the water, around which small fish gather as they seek shelter. These small fish are then caught using so-called purse seine nets.
FADs are used illegally in the Mediterranean Sea in large numbers, causing high levels of bycatch and posing a major threat to sea turtles. The Black Fish focuses its work on FADs on the South Tyrrhenian Sea, just north of Sicily.
Many of the FADs in the South Tyrrhenian Sea are set out around July, when fish species have often only just hatched. Such juvenile fish are caught up in the FAD fishing process and do not get a chance to reproduce. For the fish populations, which are already under huge pressures of overfishing, this is a major concern for their long-term survival.
Due to their unselective nature, Fish Aggregating Devices create high volumes of bycatch, as many different species are caught in the process. Sea turtles, sunfish and sharks are unintended yet well-documented victims to typically die as a result of FADs.
Typically constructed using old chemical containers or plastic bottles, FADs are generally not made from the biodegradable materials that the EU regulations require. Most FADs are left out at sea at the end of the fishing season and with the winter’s bad weather many of the devices are cut loose and end up as ocean waste.
In the South Tyrrhenian all FADs have mooring lines that measure at least 1,5 kilometres in length. These lines form navigational hazards as they do not carry radar reflectors or transponders, yet can easily get entangled in ship’s propellors. Some FADs are constructed with steel devices which form even more acute obstructions.
Species most under threat from FADs
In the South Tyrrhenian Sea the species that are most typically impacted by FADs include:
What we are doing about it
The Black Fish’s work on FADs is focused on the Mediterranean Sea, where we have discovered thousands of illegal FADs in the South Tyrrhenian Sea, just off the south western coast of Italy. Our Citizen Inspectors inspect fishing ports in the region to determine who is constructing and deploying the illegal fishing traps.
In cooperation with the Italian Coastguard we ensure that fishermen are educated about the illegality of their actions and that those who set the traps regardless, face prosecution. Where FADs are already deployed The Black Fish periodically takes small vessels out to sea to confiscate FADs by removing them from the water and recycling the materials.