Catching fish is a way of life in American Samoa, whether for a family meal or commercial venture. Finding fish takes skill, especially as fish adjust their habits to cope with climate change and other factors.

People have been enticing fish to their lines and nets for thousands of years, using a permanent or temporary structure called a fish aggregating device or FAD. Early devices were made from trees or driftwood. More recently, FADs made from buoys or floats that sit midwater or on the surface are becoming popular.

The Pacific Community (SPC) has been working with American Samoa’s Department of Marine and Wildlife Resources (DMWR) to provide training in all aspects of rigging and use of FADS. It is an example of our work in the region to improve food security and livelihoods through supporting sustainable fisheries management.

“SPC has provided technical assistance in terms of design, manufacture and assembly of FADs and identification of suitable sites. In addition, they have provided training for staff on FAD deployments,” explained a FAD supervisor with DMWR, TeeJay Letalie.

“The recreational anglers, the alia [a catamaran-style vessel] fishers doing bottom fishing, and the villagers have all benefited from deep-water and shallow-water FADs,” he said.

So how do FADs work? We know that tuna and other large ocean fish are attracted to floating objects such as logs, although we don’t know why. Tuna swim near these floating objects for two to three days before moving on. FADs are designed to imitate the natural object. They might have a surface float with material suspended underneath – usually netting, shade cloth or coconut leaves.

FADs have been used in American Samoa since the 1970s, with varying success due to funding constraints and vandalism. Local commercial, recreational and game fishers of American Samoa called on the government to place FADs around Tutuila and Manu’a islands to improve their catch.

Our fisheries scientists worked with DMWR to train a specialised FAD team. Training covered the spar buoy type surface FAD, while a subsurface FAD was included to test the design in local waters. The team placed four devices in 2012 and 2013, but just one survived, due to issues with materials and vandalism or accidental removal.

American Samoa then requested our assistance with further training in rigging and placing subsurface FADs, and with improving knowledge of echo sounders. Our scientists worked with departmental staff from smaller vessels off Tutuila Island.

Using the smaller vessels proved very successful, cutting training costs by 90 per cent. The department is now able to train other teams off Manu’a.

“The FADs have been important in the Steinlager I’a Lapo’a International Game Fishing Tournament and villagers have been catching fish at the nearshore FADs,” Mr Letalie said.

Highlights

Fish aggregating devices, or FADs, attract ocean fish to stay in a given area for a few days, making it easier to catch them
Once made of driftwood or logs, today’s advanced FAD designs might consist of a surface float with material suspended underneath such as netting, shade cloth or coconut leaves
Training and support by SPC fisheries scientists using smaller vessels helped American Samoa reduce training costs by 90 per cent and equip departmental staff to train other teams off Manu’a

Related links

FAD fact sheet
SPC and Coastal Fisheries