Floating palm fronds and sugar cane scraps have long been
used throughout the Caribbean as FADs or fish attracting devices. Today, FADs
are more sophisticated devices. Yet, their purpose is still the same: to
attract and concentrate fish into a small area where commercial and
recreational fishermen are more likely to catch them.
Today’s FAD’s can
be of two types. One is a surface FAD, which consists of a surface-floating
buoy that’s anchored to the bottom of the sea. The second type is a subsurface
FAD, which is generally placed at a depth of about 50 foot deep and again
weighted with a concrete anchor. Subsurface FADs may have a surface marker
float. These latter FADs are ideally suited for uses where vessel traffic is extensive.
Scientists are not
exactly sure how FADs work their fish-attracting wonders. According to staff at
the Virgin Islands’ Department of Planning and Natural Resource’s Fish &
Wildlife division, most scientists favor the theory that large predatory fish
are attracted by food. The FAD may serve as a physical refuge for smaller
“baitfish”. This idea is supported by the observation that open ocean predatory
fish are interrupted from their chase by the mere presence of a physical
object. On the other hand, there are some researchers who believe that fish
like tuna use objects as navigational reference points. For example, seamounts
are natural fish aggregation sites and serve as reference for daily movement of
schools of tuna. The fish may simply transfer this innate behavior to the
definitely the fisherman’s friend. Yet, they are a conservationist’s companion,
too. FADs can reduce pressure on coral reefs and inshore habitats by
redirecting fishing towards offshore waters. A great example of this was when a
marine protected area was established on St. Lucia and the displaced fishermen
were compensated for the closure of their traditional reef fishing grounds by
the placement of an array of offshore FADs.
Do FADs work? “They
certainly help to hold the baitfish, which attracts the larger fish such as
dolphin, wahoo and tuna,” says Capt. Jimmy Loveland, who’s fished Virgin
Islands waters for nearly four decades.