Meeting in Mombasa, Kenya, from 3 to 6 January 2023, the member countries of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) took a major step towards limiting industrial fishing for tuna and all marine life. The text adopted establishes an annually renewable three-month ban on drifting fish aggregating devices (FADs). This technique has caused an 80% decline in tuna stocks over the past fifty years, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Indian Ocean states, including Comoros, Madagascar, Seychelles, Kenya and Indonesia, have agreed to temporarily suspend the use of drifting fish aggregating devices (FADs). This industrial fishing equipment is causing the world’s tuna stocks to plummet by 80% over the past 50 years, according to a recent study by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
The new measure was adopted by 16 votes out of 23 at the meeting of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC), held from 3 to 6 January 2023 in Mombasa, Kenya. The adopted text establishes an annually renewable three-month ban on drifting fish aggregating devices (FADs).
Fish aggregating devices (FADs)
As explained by the conservation organisation Greenpeae, a FAD is a raft made up of an assembly of floating objects extended underwater by nets or ropes. FADs naturally attract fish and have been used by artisanal fishermen for thousands of years.
Unfortunately, this technique has been taken over and “improved” by the fishing industry, particularly in tuna fishing. FADs are now accompanied by GPS and satellite beacons that allow the position of each FAD to be tracked in real time, along with depth sounders that allow fishermen to know the volume of fish around the device. Above all, it is the increase in the number of FADs deployed by vessels that makes the situation out of control.
This is not the same as the coastal communities that survive on their artisanal fisheries. While an artisanal fisherman brings in a few kilos of fish after each trip, a tuna boat can bring in over 100 tonnes of tuna with one net.
EU opposes new FAD resolution
The temporary suspension of the use of FADs in the Indian Ocean is not to the liking of the European Union (EU), which has already threatened to oppose the new Ctoi resolution. If the EU were to do so within the next 120 days, the resolution would not apply to its vessels.
For Anne-France Mattlet, head of the tuna group of the European shipowners’ union Europêche, “the adoption of India’s proposal on FADs would be catastrophic”. The European tuna lobby argues that the use of FADs has several advantages. They ensure food security and safety by alleviating the scarcity of reef and lagoon resources, they save fuel by making it easier to access the resource. They guarantee safety at sea by reducing the distances travelled on the high seas in search of schools of fish and by focusing on more restricted fishing areas. They also make it possible to preserve reef-lagoon resources by transferring fishing effort to the more abundant pelagic resources.