Small cost yields big catch for fishers in Cape Verde

Fishers in Cape Verde have increased their catch using this simple fish-aggregating device made from recycled tires, grain sacks and gas canisters.

In past years, fishers in the Cape Verde islands off the west coast of Africa watched disappointingly as large pelagic fish like tuna and mackerel passed through their area but evaded their nets. Now, a FAO-coordinated project started one year ago has installed 17 fish-aggregating devices (FADs) - simple, inexpensive tools suspended into the water and anchored to the sea floor that attract these valuable fish so fishers know exactly where to drop their lines. The result has been very positive.

"A typical catch during the peak season was about two hundred to three hundred kilos a week for a group of five boats," says FAO master fisherman Jean Gallene, "but in one place where the FAD was installed, the catch went up to 7 000 kilos." Increases in total yield vary with the type of boat and the species fished, but in Cape Verde the catch more than doubled in more than half the sites equipped with the device.

A FAD consists of a metal line suspended into the water, anchored by a ballast on the sea floor and held in place by a marked buoy at the surface. Swatches of netlike materials attached to the line trap the ubiquitous phytoplankton that flow by. As the fibres become saturated with plankton, small fish feed on the plankton and then larger fish feed on the smaller ones. By placing their boats nearby, fishers are all but guaranteed a much higher catch.

Although the effectiveness of such devices had been previously documented, the cost of $2 000 or more was prohibitive in the developing world. FAO found a way to fashion a similar product at a much lower cost using locally produced materials. For example, cement-filled tires become the ballast, empty gas canisters are used as the buoy and floats, and discarded grain sacks or fishing nets serve as the perfect plankton trap. Metal swivels and other hardware are also produced locally. Final cost: about $US 140 for a device that descends about 80 metres into the sea.

"The price of a FAD is so low, most fishing communities can pay back the cost after no more than a month, sometimes just a week," says Mr Gallene. Indeed, some fishers are so enthusiastic about FADs, that they've started collecting small contributions from others to pay for additional devices. The new FADs developed by FAO are also smaller and lighter, making it easier for fishers to haul the lines in every six to eight months for maintenance and about every two years to be replaced.

Technicians spend about a week to ten days preparing a FAD, during which time they train local fishers to use them. "It's important for the fishers to participate in the building and maintenance of the device," says Mr Gallene, since their involvement also guarantees its sustainability and success. They also get involved in choosing the location. Two or three local fishers generally accompany the FAO technician and point out their favourite fishing sites. The technician then confirms the depth to make sure it lies in the ideal range for the area, in this case from 25 to 80 metres.

The FAD becomes effective quickly - within two weeks to a month - once plankton builds up. On the Cape Verde island of Maio, for instance, small-scale fishers reported good yields of tuna and other species just two weeks after installation. Over a 14-day period, five small-scale canoes unloaded a total of 1 600 kilos of yellowfin tuna, seerfish, dorado and mackerel scad, valued at about US$ 3 200 - a catch practically unheard of in past years. That translates into substantial income increases for local fishers.

And there are other advantages. Once installed, a FAD's location becomes known to fishers and authorities and can assist in navigation. Boats having engine trouble can paddle to the area and be assured that other boats will pass by. Some of the devices are also being equipped with a radar reflector, which will make it easier for emergency vessels to find them.

Although the effectiveness of FADs could create problems of overfishing in intensive, industrialized fishing situations, "it's not a concern with the kind of small-scale fishing that occurs in Cape Verde," says Joël Prado, an officer in FAO's Fishery Technology Service.

The Cape Verde project received financial support from the Government of Holland and technical advice from the National Institute for Fisheries Development in Cape Verde.

18 January 2001


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