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State places new FADs in Maui waters

By Staff | May 19, 2016

Hawaii was perhaps the first place where the Philippine payao concept was adapted for use in deep, high-energy environments. Modern use of fish aggregation devices (FADs) in Hawaii started in 1977, when the National Marine Fisheries Service, Honolulu Laboratory deployed a few experimental FADs in nearshore waters.

Very good catches of skipjack tuna were taken from around these early FADs by pole-and-line bait boats, and sport fishing was also reported to be excellent. Based on these results, the State of Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources sought funding to deploy a network of FADs around the islands. In 1980, the state deployed 26 FADs in a program that has since expanded to its current status of 55 approved surface FAD sites.

Hawaii FADs evolved through two previous designs before the current system of a single-sphere spar-buoy was adopted. These were of two types: the pentasphere, which was a group of five small (71-centimeter diameter) buoys welded together and the foam-filled tire design. However, following analysis of the performance of these FADs and the reasons for FAD losses and mooring failure, the system was changed to the use of a single-sphere float. By 1983, all Hawaiian FADs had been converted to the single-sphere design.

Today’s FADs have an inverse catenary mooring system comprised of sections of floating and sinking rope attached to a tripod concrete block anchor system. The FADs are located 2.4 to 25 miles offshore and in depths of 80 to 1,510 fathoms.

Hawaii FADs are heavily used by private and commercial sport fishermen and by small-scale artisanal and commercial fishermen. Probably the biggest beneficiary is the commercial sport fishing sector. Sport fishing charter boats visit the FADs extensively and use them to catch target species such as tuna, marlin and mahi-mahi.

They also use the FADs to catch live bait for marlin fishing. FADs provide charter boats with much improved chances of success, even if the fish are small tuna caught on light tackle. In fact, light tackle sport fishing at the FADs is one of the options promoted by the commercial sport fishing sector.

Sub-adult yellowfin tuna caught around FADs spend their days around the FADs but leave them at night and venture off as far as five miles. Studies have also shown that small bigeye tuna spend more time closer to the surface around FADs than when they are in free schools away from them.

The FAD program is a grant partnership between the DLNR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The majority of funding for the Hawaiian FAD system is obtained from the Sport Fishing Restoration Act (SFRA). This is a federal U.S. program designed to provide financial support for the management and improvement of sport fisheries within the United States.

The Sport Fish Restoration Act has four sources of funds. The money for this program is raised through a 10 percent tax on manufacturers’ excise taxes paid on fishing tackle and pleasure boats; import fees for fishing gear and boats; the federal fuel tax from the sale of gasoline for motorboats and outdoor power equipment; and the interest on the trust fund, in which revenues from these sources are held. The state matches 25 percent of the total of USFWS Sport Fish Restoration Act FAD money.

There are 15 state buoys around Maui County. The state FAD website lists “recently deployed” Maui FADs as NL, located eight miles off Nuu Landing (Kaupo area) in December 2015; and GG, located seven miles off Nakaohu Point (Luala’ilua, Four Hills) in January. JJ, 6.6 miles off the south side of Kahoolawe; and MC, 12.8 miles west/southwest off Lanai, were deployed the end of March. N, 14 miles off Halawa Point, Molokai, was deployed the first part of April.

There is a lot more work to be done. Missing FADs in Maui County are CC (13 miles off Kaena Point, Lanai) and K, 5.5 miles off the southwest end of Lanai. SO is ten miles off the west end of the shoals off Kahoolawe, with HS south in between Maui and Kahoolawe. LA, which was located off Olowalu between Lanai and Kahoolawe, will be discontinued. Tugs and barges have continued to run it over for years, and because of this, it will not be redeployed.

On the North Shore, there are DD (6.5 miles off Opana Point), Q (16 miles off Pauwela Point), and FF, which is located 15.5-miles off Hana.

One big reason for downsizing is the cost of ship time. As of now, the cost of deployment has gone up two-and-a-half times. The state is looking at how best to get the most of the deployments to keep costs down; one way is possibly discontinuing sites.