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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 28, 2006

Fishing buoy washes up in Ka'a'awa

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer

Jesse Wendt of Minneapolis, Minn., waded into the water yesterday to get a photo of the Fish Aggregating Device, or FAD, that came ashore at Kanenelu Beach. The buoy, which had been anchored off Moloka'i, is one of about 56 FAD buoys spread throughout Hawai'i waters.

BRUCE ASATO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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KA'A'AWA ÷ A buoy used by sports fishermen angling for deep sea fish broke loose from its Moloka'i anchor and this washed ashore on a beach in Ka'a'awa about three weeks ago.

The bright yellow orb, part of the state FAD (Fish Aggregating Devices) Program, will be picked up today and likely will be hauled back into deep waters.

Statewide, about 56 FAD buoys are anchored between 2 1/2 to 25 miles offshore spread throughout the major islands in water as deep as 6,000 feet, said Warren Cortez, FAD specialist who works with the state program that maintains the buoys.

"Malaekahana, Ka'a'awa, Hau'ula are hot spots for buoys that break off on the Windward side," Cortez said. "If it goes past Kahuku Point or Malaekahana I don't get it back. That's how the currents run."

Mahimahi, ahi, ono and billfish are attracted to the buoys during different times of the year. Avid fisherman Charlie Schmucker said the FADs serve as a good innovation for sports fishermen.

"It acts as a sanctuary for smaller fish to hide from the predators," Schmucker said. "Then the larger fish come in and they eat them and of course up the food chain it goes."

Sometimes as many as six to eight boats can be spotted at FAD sites, which are on charts for anyone to find, he said.

Cortez said the devices, which have been a part of sports fishing since 1979, "evened the playing field" for some sportsmen. Others scoffed at the innovation, he said. "It made it so you didn't have to pay your dues out in the ocean and figure out where the fish are hanging out, where the schooling grounds are."

A FAD buoy costs about $8,000 and clings to an anchor for at least two years and as many as five, depending on the location, before breaking free, Cortez said. Buoy "N" was anchored near Halawa off Moloka'i and broke free prematurely, he said, blaming heavy ocean swells that cause the device to jump up to 10 feet, thereby straining its chain.

The state program operates out of the Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Aquatic Resources. The bulk of the program's funding comes from the national Dingel/Johnson Fund, which is maintained with taxes on fishing gear and other aquatic purchases, among other things, he said.

Despite decades of success, Hawai'i's FADs this year have been a disappointment, Schmucker said. Because the buoys are yielding fewer fish, anglers are looking for "lucky blind strikes" in piles of floating rubbish, he said. They're also watching for birds, another sign of fish in the area.

Commercial fishermen are struggling, too, Schmucker said, citing the cost of sashimi grade ahi. Typically, the price drops in January from Christmas season rates of $20 to $22 a pound in the markets, he said. This year, the holiday prices are still in place.

Some anglers maintain that the water is too cold or too warm this year, but they don't really know why the fish are now more difficult to hook, Schmucker said.

"That's why they call it fishing not catching," he quipped.

Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser.com.

Correction: A buoy that broke loose off Moloka'i washed ashore on O'ahu about three weeks ago. A previous version of this story gave an incorrect time period.