Over the past 50 years, the global production of fish and seafood has quadrupled. In 2017, the global fishing industry had generated USD 150 billion, while around 150 million tons of fish were consumed in 2018. With technologies such as GPS, satellite-based radio-navigation, radars, underwater current meters and acoustic sounders, modern commercial fishing vessels are able to navigate more accurately; better detect fish, and significantly increase their catches to meet the rising global demand for seafood.
In Mauritius and Rodrigues, semi-industrial fishing vessels have been using new technologies quite proficiently for the past 2 decades. However, the situation is different for the ageing artisanal fishers who are still using traditional navigation techniques and struggle in overfished and pressured lagoons. Besides, the declining lagoon biodiversity makes it increasingly difficult for the artisanal fishing community to earn a living. One possible future for them is found on the high sea, and it requires embracing new fishing technologies and digital solutions. Introducing such technologies to artisanal fishers will not only make off-lagoon fishing safer and more productive, but also allow more sustainable fishing. At a time when global fish stocks has dropped by a third since 1974, technology is key to better manage fisheries and ensure their resilience. Through the ECOFISH Mauritius project being implemented by UNDP, solutions including innovation and upskilling are being proposed to artisanal fishers to facilitate exploration of new fishing grounds off the lagoons.
Fish Aggregating Devices – a multifaceted solution
One way towards ensuring better catches for off-lagoon artisanal fishers is the use of Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs). Commonly referred to as "rafts”, FADs are floating structures anchored by ropes to the seafloor in the open sea. They are a refuge for smaller fish, which in turn attract bigger predator fish species such as tuna (thon), dolphinfish (dorade), wahoo (bécune) and billfishes. FADs present several benefits for artisanal fishers. They aggregate pelagic fish species and render their catch easier. The average catch from the FAD fishery is about 35 kg compared to 5-6 kg in the demersal lagoon fishery. A second major advantage of FADS is that they allow fishers to save on fuel and time by literally “bringing the fish to the fishers”.
In Mauritius and Rodrigues, FADs were introduced in 1985 and 1987 respectively to divert fishing efforts from the exploited lagoons to the open sea while increasing and diversifying the income of the artisanal fishers. Placed in 28 and 22 strategic locations beyond the reefs of Mauritius and Rodrigues respectively, FADs coupled with common fishing techniques such as handlines, trolling with artificial or natural lures, baited drift-lines, and vertical longlines, play a significant role in the catch of pelagic fish. The vertical longline targets the albacore tuna (Thunnus alalunga), which migrate in the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Republic of Mauritius during austral summer months, and is one of the world's more commercially valuable fish.
A major player of global fisheries, the tuna industry has been using drifting FADs (dFADs) to optimize catches since 2005. dFADs are equipped with solar powered satellite buoys fitted with GPS technology and echo-sounders that provide data on the quantity of fish below the buoy in near-real time. Such technologies are presently being improved to enhance sustainable fishing. With more accurate data on the fish population under the buoy, fishers will be able to discriminate the targeted and non-targeted fish species, minimize bycatch, and spare juvenile fish. On the same line, technologies embarked on FADs can also be key to improve the monitoring of fishing vessels on the oceans and help fight IUU fishing which represents around 15% of the world’s total catches, and a value of EUR 24 billion annually.
As any technology, FADS also have disadvantages. The number of FADs lost annually due to wear and tear or collision with large vessels is on the high side. Moreover, due to strong currents, FADs, such as the currently used rosary type FAD set in Mauritius and Rodrigues, may sink several meters deep. This not only results in damage due to high pressure on the instruments attached to the FAD but also prevents fishers from finding their fishing grounds. Finally, although “rafts” are set for the benefit of the artisanal fishers, in the absence of legislations, recreation and sports fishing boats can fish around FADs and compete with the artisanal fishers who depend on catches for a living.
Contributions of the Mauritius ECOFISH Project to communities.
The project aims at supporting the artisanal fishing community for the sustainable management of coastal fisheries and to improve their economic situation. This will include innovative and sustainable solutions allowing them to (i) fish around FADs, (ii) use updated fish landing stations and (iii) derive benefits from improved post-harvest processes while integrating more women and the youth in fishing.
Implemented in collaboration with the Ministry of Blue Economy, Marine Resources, Fisheries and Shipping, and the Rodrigues Regional Assembly, the project aims will facilitate the procurement and installation of new generation FADS. These smart anchored rafts, built to resist collisions with passing vessels, will be equipped with a solar powered satellite buoy with integrated GPS, sensors, and an echo-sounder for biomass estimation. The satellite buoy is also integrated with microprocessors allowing raw data to be collected, analysed and processed, so that fishers receive filtered and accurate information.
Under the project, a complementary mobile phone application is also being developed to allow artisanal fishers to directly access information gathered by the smart FADs. Training in the use of FADs, GPS localization and reading of biomass information, and sensitization campaigns on best fishing practices will also be designed for artisanal fishers, including young people and women.
During awareness meetings organized by UNDP in October and November 2021, fishers of various regions of Mauritius have already demonstrated interest towards the new fishing technologies presented to them under the project. According to Mr. Patrick Fortuno, Representative of the Trou D’eau Douce Fishers Cooperative, artisanal fishers have much to benefit from a professionalization of the artisanal fishing activity and from upskilling.
The activities planned under the ECOFISH (Mauritius) project are in line with the new UNDP Strategic Plan 2022-2025 which promotes solutions powered by digitalization, innovation and development financing – for greater impact. At the level of the Regional Ecofish Programme, the creation of a regional framework to improve data collection on the contribution of fisheries in the national economy of Eastern Africa, Southern Africa and Indian Ocean Region countries is on the way.