RFMOs Working On “Confusing” FAD Definitions


A joint tuna RFMO FAD working group has been established and one of its objectives is to harmonize the terminology used to define a Fish Aggregating Device (FAD), but progress so far has been slow. Currently all four major RFMOs adopt a different definition for this vital component of global tuna fishing and this can create confusion and difficulties when it comes to management. Getting this general term consistent is a key step to then clearly define FAD and free-school sets, which has also been a point of discussion in the industry.

Atuna previously reported that the US government had called a meeting with tuna industry stakeholders to determine if the US should be pushing for the adoption of one “common definition” of a FAD to be used across all RFMOs. With the US tuna fleet active under the WCPFC, IATTC, and ICCAT – all of which use different terminology – it was expressed that this can create issues when it comes to managing the use of these devices.

In that article, Atuna mentioned the FAD definitions of these three RFMOs. It is now aware that the IOTC uses yet another term – similar but not identical to that of the WCPFC.

“Anchored, drifting, floating, swimming or submerged object or group of objects, of any size, that has or has not been deployed, that is living or non-living, including but not limited to buoys, floats, netting, webbing, plastics, bamboo, logs, whales and whale sharks that fish may associate with.”

It is clear when putting all four definitions together that the IOTC and WCPFC’s terminology are more detailed than that of the IATTC and ICCAT.

For this reason, “there is a need to provide common definitions across RFMOs with regard to FADs”, an IOTC spokesperson said, echoing the thoughts of the US government. It was noted that several countries/entities participate in multiple RFMOs and “differing definitions may create confusion and difficulties in management.”

There has been a joint tuna RFMO FAD working group set up to focus on addressing this issue, with one of the objectives being to harmonize terminology and address issues of common interest regarding FADs between the various tuna RFMOs. Work is “ongoing” according to the IOTC, however there is no meeting scheduled for 2018, but “it is hoped that work will continue on this issue.”

A meeting was held in April 2017, however it is noted that the WCPFC decided not to participate. The seemingly slow progress in this area and the potential that discussions will not continue until sometime next year could be clear indication as to why governments like the US are keen to get the topic higher on the agenda.

Defining the general term of a FAD is just a first step too. Second would be to determine what a FAD set or a free-school set is. Some argue that for a set to be free-school, it must be made at least one nautical mile away from a FAD, while others say minimum 10 miles or more. At a recent meeting a representative from the Spanish seiner fleet even noted that within 15 miles, fish could still be associated to a FAD and therefore should not be determined free-school catch. This matter therefore also needs to be addressed to ensure reliable data and management in ocean regions where definitions are still not clear.