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Common Oceans - A partnership for sustainability in the ABNJ

Ghanaian Purse Seine and Pole and Line Fleets to Deploy Biodegradable Fish Aggregating Devices Following Design Workshop

26 April 2018

This year, the Ghanaian purse seine and pole and line fleets will deploy 600 biodegradable Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs). This is an encouraging development that follows a workshop carried out by the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF), supported by the Common Oceans ABNJ Tuna Project that is implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and funded by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF). During the workshop, biodegradable FADs were designed with help from fishers from the Ghanaian tuna fleet, which operates in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean.

Click to enlarge

Ghana's decision to deploy these FADs marks a consequential step forward towards healthier oceans given the consideration that 10 percent of deployed FADs end up stranded, and the materials they're comprised of can have lasting impacts on vulnerable habitats. By replacing commonly used petroleum-based nylon netting with biodegradable ropes, we can prevent stranded FADs from producing pollution as components break down at sea.

With the help of scientists at ISSF, the Common Oceans ABNJ Tuna Project has been collaborating with the fishing industry on a variety of projects in the Indian and Pacific Oceans to test the use of biodegradable FADs. But every ocean region is different and not every fishery will produce identical results. It is critical that tests are run in a variety of fishery conditions before widespread global adoption can be achieved. Ghana's fishing fleet is significant in the global tuna fishing industry, and the Ghana Tuna Association and Ghanaian government have shown a demonstrated motivation to implement sustainable best practices and so it became an obvious choice as a partner for the Common Oceans ABNJ Tuna Project to continue to advance its research on biodegradable FADs.


Following the launch of the collaborative effort in November 2017, the design workshop on the use of biodegradable FADs took place in Ghana in April this year with the objectives to:

  • Determine the structural features necessary for a FAD to be productive in Ghanaian tuna fleets;
  • determine the minimum lifetime required for a FAD to be used;
  • review the different materials tested by scientists and fishers in previous science-industry projects;
  • design new bio-FAD structures that are appropriate to the fishing needs of the Ghanaian fleets;
  • define the protocol (or strategy) to test bio-FADs in real fishing conditions through the cooperation of the fleets in Ghana, with a timetable on the gradual implementation of these FADs by vessel; and
  • define the data collection procedure to gather information that compare biodegradable and artificial material FADs results.
Traditional Korean-style FAD design used in Ghanaian fleets
Same FAD with technical details designed by fishers
during the workshop © ISSF
Click to enlarge
Ghanaian fishers designing biodegradable FADs 
Ghanaian fishers designing biodegradable FADs 

By testing large quantities of FAD structures made from biodegrading materials and obtaining feedback from the fishers themselves, the Workshop was designed to uncover effective strategies so that the Ghanaian fleet can eventually replace, on a fishery-wide scale, the use of traditional FADs with these more eco-friendly designs.

The workshop resulted in recommendations, which aim to ensure progress towards widespread acceptance and adoption of biodegradable FADs continues in the region. The first recommendation determined that the lifetime of a Ghanaian FAD to be useful for fishing purposes is a maximum of one year. Two other recommendations relate to the need for better data collection by way of echo-sounder buoys attached to FADs and that more research is needed to find alternatives to provide biodegradable buoyancy to FADs. Perhaps the most momentous recommendation was that, "experimental, biodegradable FADs need to be tested in great quantities in order to obtain meaningful results, thus Ghanaian fleets should deploy a large quantity, around 600 biodegradable FADs" – which is exactly what they're going to do.

The FAO-GEF Common Oceans ABNJ Tuna Project harnesses the efforts of a large and diverse array of partners including the five tuna RFMOs, governments, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations and private sector with the aim to achieve responsible, efficient and sustainable tuna production and biodiversity conservation in the areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ). More about the workshop can be found in the report that is available here.

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