Fisheries Conservation and Management
The Fisheries Research Section (FRS) of the Division of Fish and Wildlife works to collect fisheries independent data and use the fisheries dependent data collected by the Fisheries Data Section for the conservation and management of the aquatic resources of the our islands. Much of the funding for these programs comes from the Sportfish Restoration Program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. FRS fisheries biologists conduct research, collecting and analyzing multiple types of data to provide policymakers with the information needed to make important conservation decisions. Some of the projects include a Checklist of the Fish of the CNMI, Monitoring of Marine Sanctuaries, Fish Tagging Studies, Evaluation of Management Measures, and a Life History Program.
Key projects are outlined below.
The CNMI Fish Aggregating Devices (FAD) Program was created to provide both sport and commercial fishermen with a cost-effective way of catching pelagic fish in CNMI off-shore waters. FADs are essentially simple structures that provide a home or hiding place for bait fish, thereby creating a feeding ground for fish such as skipjack, yellowfin tuna, wahoo and mahimahi. Because they are anchored to the sea floor, FADs allow fishermen to travel directly to productive fishing grounds, minimizing the time and fuel spent searching for schools of fish or flocks of birds. FADs also reduce fishing pressure on reef fishes.
Since the first FADs were deployed in CNMI in 1980 they have been popular with fishermen who report that the FADs not only increase pelagic catch, but "hold the fish longer" allowing increased catch for a longer period of time (mahimahi tends to be seasonal in the CNMI). Not only commercial fishermen benefit, the local sport charter boat fleet benefits as well with increased success rates on trips.
How FADs work
FADS are made out of fiberglass and then filled with foam to obtain maximum bouyancy and stability. A galvanized pipe is used as the core for the bouy and a stainless steel eye-bolt is installed at the bottom portion of the bouy. A chain runs from the eye-bolt to an concrete anchor on the seafloor. As simple as the design is, it creates an environment that attracts fish in an otherwise empty expanse of ocean. FADs are relatively inexpensive compared to other methods of of fishing such as long-lining or nets, and they save fishermen a great deal of fuel. Unfortunately, the life span of a FAD is fairly short in the open ocean due to severe environmental conditions, so they require frequent replacement.
The CNMI currently has 10 permanent FAD sites in the waters surrounding the islands of Saipan, Tinian, Aguijan and Rota. They are found 5 to 10 miles from shore in depths of 1,000 to 6,000 feet.