Issue 17.2: April / May 2014

Mama’s FAD

Story by Dave Choo
Photo by Sue Hudelson

The Maui fishermen who sell their catch to Mama’s Fish House are considered far more than fishmongers — they’re partners, so much so that for the last twenty-five years the popular Pa‘ia restaurant has included their names and fishing spots in descriptions of its daily entrées. And so when a fish-aggregating device, or FAD, was lost off Maui’s northeast coast nearly two years ago, the restaurant came up with another.

“FADs are like a little oasis in the middle of the open ocean,” explains Layne Nakagawa, a commercial fisherman who helped design and deploy Mama’s FAD. “In a way it’s like aquaculture without the cages.” FADs provide fishermen with better opportunities to catch tuna, mahimahi, ono and billfish by mimicking ocean debris, around which pelagic fishes congregate. FADs also — thanks to catch reports and tagging efforts — provide researchers with data about fish biology and behavior. The state maintains a network of fifty-five FADs, but, says Nakagawa, those are deployed about a dozen miles offshore and anchored to the ocean floor at six thousand feet. Mama’s FAD is three times as far from land in water more than twice as deep. Instead of a simple spherical shape, it features a large boat-like structure with dangling strands of nylon rope that provide habitat for small fish which attract larger fish.

The buoy was deployed last May, and the results were immediate: Mahimahi began circling within twenty-four hours, followed quickly by other species. Catch reports indicate that Mama’s buoy is ten times more productive than the previous FAD. Earlier this year Mama’s deployed a second FAD closer to shore—about ten miles out—so that recreational fishermen can share in the bounty. As with the first buoy, everyone is welcome; there is no requirement to sell the catch to Mama’s, though Nakagawa does ask that fishermen report their catch details.

Karen Christenson, Mama’s vice president, says the decision to sponsor the FADs —at a cost of $20,000 apiece—was easy for the restaurant, which each year buys fish from more than two hundred fishermen. “If these guys didn’t go out and do what they do,” she asks, “what kind of business would we have?”