Guam anchored fish aggregation devices, also known as FADs, will soon be upgraded with the installation of satellite echosounder buoys that will provide fishers with real time information.

The info provided to fishers would entail the exact location of the FADs as well as estimates of how much fish is aggregating at them.

Guam has a long tradition of utilizing its US Fish and Wildlife Services funding to support local pelagic fisheries through the maintenance and deployment of the FADs. In the late 1970s, the Guam Department of Agriculture’s Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources started to install and maintain a network of up to 14 FADs in the nearshore waters of Guam. 

Guam’s FADs consist of a large buoy anchored to the bottom of the ocean, which attracts pelagic fish. 

This attraction to FADs is what helps fishers, as they can then focus their fishing efforts around the FADs to reduce fuel costs.

Zunibal’s General Director Ibone Rodriguez said new technological advances regarding remote underwater detection, that are extensively used by industrial fishing fleets, provide a unique opportunity to further increase the benefits of FADs to local fishing communities.

“Since we developed the first prototype in 1998, satellite echosounder buoys that identify oceanic fish and communicate those findings via satellite have quickly evolved, with state-of-the-art models currently able to identify fish at depths of over 120 yards at a very high resolution and produce estimations of overall amounts of fish under them,” said Rodriguez. 

“But while widely used by industrial tuna fleets, this satellite echosounder buoy technology has not yet been adopted by artisanal fisheries,” she added. 

A project managed by Mariana Islands Nature Alliance in partnership with DAWR and Zunibal, and funded by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Saltonstall-Kennedy Program is trying to bridge this gap and bring the benefits of those technologies to Guam’s local fisheries.

In collaboration with DAWR, satellite echosounder buoys will be deployed at all of Guam’s active FADs. 

The echosounder buoys will be attached to the main FAD buoy by a surface line, floating at a distance of about 28 ft from the FAD float to avoid interference with the FAD anchor chain. 

The solar-powered buoys will be sounding continuously every few seconds. Hourly sounding summaries and location information will then be automatically uploaded via satellite and made available in real time to the fishing community through a web platform. 

The sounding summaries will include estimates of the amounts of fish at different depths, while location information will include the coordinates of the latest FAD position.

Dr. Javier Cuetos-Bueno, principal investigator on this project, noted that the objective is to provide additional information to the fishing community to further support local pelagic fishing, which will hopefully encourage more fishers to target oceanic fish, which are a very resilient resource. 

“Attaching these satellite echosounder buoys to the FADs will be like having a remote fish finder on each of them working 24/7. The rationale is that knowing in real time where fish are aggregating will make pelagic fishing more attractive and profitable for fishers as it will reduce cost and increase the chances of catch by knowing where the fish are instead of trolling around hoping to find them,” Cuetos-Bueno said. 

The echosounder buoys will also be set to send an automated alarm if they drift away from their regular mooring site. This will help early identification of FAD detachment, and track and recovery efforts of FADs in the event they get detached. 

Cuetos-Bueno noted overall, this new technology will help both the local community’s fishing activities and DAWR’s efforts to manage Guam’s FAD network which has evolved to become a central component of Guam’s fisheries sector, and this importance is only forecasted to continue to grow. 

“Pacific coastal nations are forecasted to increasingly become more dependent on pelagic fisheries, as coastal fisheries are disproportionately impacted by climate change. There is a growing agreement that increased targeting of more resilient oceanic resources is probably the most realistic option for local communities to maintain their food security,” said Cuetos-Bueno. 

“FADs will be a central tool to support the inevitable expansion of local oceanic fisheries, and the new technologies that we are going to be testing in Guam will help make pelagic fishing more affordable, efficient, and safe for our local fishers and communities,” he added.