By Emily Tripp
Because the open ocean is vast and relatively empty, fish tend to congregate around objects like sunken ships or rafts that are sitting on the empty seafloor or floating alone near the surface.
Scientists have recognized this behavior and speculate that these objects create “visual stimulus in an optical void” and act as a point of reference or attraction, but they’re not the only ones. Long ago, fishers learned to use this behavior to their benefit.
Fishers started using fish aggregating devices (FADs) — artificial structures that are used to attract fish — for centuries. These structures range in complexity from simple wooden rafts with rope, to steel constructions fitted with radio transmitters.
According to an article published in Nature earlier this year, there could be as many as tens of thousands of FADs floating in our oceans. The problem is that they are incredibly effective at attracting fish and their use is largely unregulated. This can contribute to overfishing of species that are already facing serious declines, like tuna, but FADs can also attract other species, like sea turtles, which are then caught along with the target species as bycatch.
One food service company is taking a stand against the use of FADs.
Bon Appétit Management Company recently announced that by 2015, all of the skipjack tuna it purchases will be caught without the use of FADs. That amounts to 233,000 pounds, or 91.5 percent of all the processed tuna Bon Appétit purchases.
“It means a lot to us to be able to know where our tuna is coming from and how it was caught,” Maisie Ganzler, vice president of strategy at Bon Appétit, said in a news release. “We would love to see more transparency in the seafood supply chain. Accountability is critical if we’re going to stop the destruction of our seafood supply and our oceans.”
Bon Appétit was also the first food service provider to make a “comprehensive companywide commitment to sustainable seafood.” In 2002, their chefs agreed to only serve seafood that is rated Best Choice or Good Alternative by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch.
“We are thrilled to see Bon Appétit lead the way toward more sustainable seafood purchasing for the food service industry,” said Jennifer Dianto Kemmerly, director of Seafood Watch. “We estimate that based on its current purchases, by sourcing only FAD-free skipjack tuna, Bon Appétit will be helping to avoid the bycatch of more than 13,000 tons of overexploited bigeye tuna and other non-target fishes each year.”
Emily Tripp is the publisher and editor of MarineScienceToday.com, an online magazine about what's in, on, and around the oceans. She holds marine science and biology degrees from the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.