Fishermen in Hawaii and other parts of the world have long known that tunas and other pelagic fishes are attracted to floating objects. Fishermen have benefited from this behavior by fishing around floating logs, nets, debris and other flotsam.
The State of Hawaii has capitalized on this phenomenon by placing Fish Aggregating Devices (FAD's) in the waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands. In these waters, schools of tunas and other important pelagic fishes such as dolphin fish (Mahi mahi), wahoo (Ono), and billfishes can be induced to congregate and remain for periods of time in an area so that fishers can easily locate them. Thus, the FADs are used to "attract" and "hold" pelagic fishes in areas to enhance fishing.
In 1977, the Honolulu Laboratory (Southwest Fisheries Center) of the National Marine Fisheries Service, with funds from the now defunct Pacific Fisheries Development Foundation, installed a few experimental anchored rafts off Oahu, Lanai and West Hawaii. Skipjack tuna (Aku) catches of 5 to 15 tons were frequently reported by pole-and-line aku fishing vessels around these rafts. The Aku fishing vessels also used less then the usual amount of live bait enabling them to make more fishing trips per week. Sport fishers also reported catches averaging 300-700 pounds of skipjack tuna and 200 pounds of mahi mahi per boat per weekend.
Encouraged by the successful results in Hawaiian waters, the Department of Land & Natural Resources, Division of Aquatic Resources, proposed establishing a system of Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) in 1979 to revitalize the fishing industry and increase sportfishing opportunities. The State Legislature appropriated funds for the Department to develop and establish the FAD system. Today, principal funding is derived from the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Program.
In 1980, the Division of Aquatic Resources designed, constructed and deployed twenty-six (26) FADs in waters around the main Hawaiian Islands. The FADs were located 2.4 to 25 miles offshore and in depths of 80 to 1,510 fathoms as recommended by Hawaii´s fishermen through statewide public meetings.
In 1996, the State FAD program came under the operation of Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB), SOEST, University of Hawaii in cooperation with the State of Hawaii´s Division of Aquatic Resources. Currently, there are 55 surface FADs monitored and maintained statewide. Over the last 16 years FAD designs and deployment has been greatly improved to increase the life and effectiveness of the system.
Several major research programs utilize Hawaii's FADs. The results of these experiments are used worldwide to improve resource management and develop sustainable fishing practices.