Okaloosa County deploys final round of fish aggregating device buoys

Special to the Daily News

DESTIN — The tourism department of Okaloosa County completed the final deployment of Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) in the Gulf of Mexico on Jan. 20.

That completes an eight-buoy network off the coast of Destin and Fort Walton Beach and is the first in the continental United States. The deployment took place at four locations 60-80 miles offshore.

A diver gets ready to help place one of the last set of buoys in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Okaloosa County Commission unanimously voted to name the eight-buoy network in honor of former commissioner Capt. Kelly Windes.

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“We have been working on the deployment of the FAD network for five years and are thankful for Kelly Windes and his unwavering support. It is an honor to have them named after such a great man and steward of our community,” said Jennifer Adams, director of the Okaloosa County Tourist Development Department.

The fish aggregating device buoys have been placed 60-80 miles offshore from Destin and Fort Walton Beach.

The first four buoys in the network were deployed in August 2020 and already have proven to be a success. There are reports that a variety of pelagic fish species, such as tuna, marlin and mahi mahi, already have been caught at the FAD sites.

More:Angler lands 310-pound blue marlin off Destin coast at new Okaloosa fish buoys

The first buoys were manufactured in Japan, where FADs are widely used and the technology has been fine-tuned. Their specific design has been successful in areas that experience strong storm systems. The first four buoys did not sustain any damage during tropical storm systems this past fall.

The final four buoys are a different design. Those buoys are bright yellow and resemble a large generic channel buoy. Two of the new buoys are affixed with weather reporting equipment that will provide real-time weather data so visitors can plan their trips around safer, more comfortable weather conditions.

“It was a long day on the water but we got it done! All eight buoys are now in place, and I look forward to hearing reports from visitors to the completed FAD network. I’m also happy that we will have a couple of weather stations offshore, where we really lack reporting or historic stations are no longer functional,” said Alex Fogg, the county's coastal resource manager.

The FAD buoy network will be monitored throughout the year to ensure they are holding up and performing well. The county also will work with universities to better understand fish interactions and human use associated with the FAD network.

Coordinates for the Okaloosa County FAD buoys and artificial reef sites can be found here.

The exact location of the buoys listed here might vary by up to 500 feet because of buoy movement around the anchor.

For more information, visit: www.destinfwb.com.