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International Smart Gear Competition

Overview

Improving fishing gear is a key step in reducing bycatch. Gear modifications can increase the chances of escape for non-target species or, better yet, reduce the number caught in the first place. Simple, inexpensive innovations have proven effective in many fisheries and some of the best solutions to date have come from fishers themselves.

WWF, in partnership with industry leaders, scientists and fishers, launched the International Smart Gear Competition in 2004. Designed to inspire creative thinkers, Smart Gear is a call for innovative ideas that have practical applications for fishing “smarter”—for increasing selectivity for target fish species and reducing bycatch. The competition invites submissions of practical, cost-effective solutions to reduce fisheries bycatch, and offers cash prizes totaling $65,000.

Why It Matters

  • The problem of bycatch

    Each year, fishing gear such as longlines, trawls and nets incidentally catch billions of marine animals that are not the fishers’ target. This bycatch is discarded—dead or dying—back into the sea.

  • Problem for fishermen

    The unintended take of non-target species is a major fisheries management problem that wastes fishermen’s time and costs hundreds of millions of dollars in damaged gear.

  • Problem for non-target species

    Bycatch causes dramatic declines in the populations of many marine species, including dolphins, sea turtles, seabirds, sharks, and other fish species.

What WWF Is Doing

Through the Smart Gear competition, WWF supports innovation in solving the problem of fisheries bycatch. The competition brings together conservation interests with industry and government for unique cross-sector collaboration.

Open to all, the competition has attracted entries from all kinds of people who care about fishing— from gear technologists and fishermen to engineers and chemists. Our international judges panel includes fisheries experts, gear technologists, fishermen, scientists, researchers and conservationists.

In addition to running the competition, WWF also helps advance the winners toward implementation by the fishing industry. This may include further modification work, additional field trials or even help in navigating bureaucratic channels.

2014 Winner: Air Powered Sampling for Purse Seine Fisheries

The Air Powered Sampling for Purse Seine Fisheries allows fishermen to obtain a sample of fish in the early phase of pursing, well before the catch is brought alongside the ship when the stress level of the fish is still low and the physical contact between the fish and net-wall is seldom observed. If the samples taken by the mini trawl reveal that the fish caught in the purse seine are a wrong size or quality, the seine can easily be opened and the fish swim freely out of the gear, subsequently reducing the latent mortality.

air powered sampling

2014 Runner-up: Super Poly Shark

whitetip shark

The Super Polyshark is a time-release polymer that is incorporated into longline baits. The device releases an odor that repels sharks without affecting target fish catch. Trials in the swordfish fishery off the coast of Florida have reduced shark bycatch by as much as 70 percent while still maintaining the target catch rate.

2014 Runner-up: Freswind

Developed by a team of seven, including fishermen and scientists, the Freswind is a grid system that allows fishers to release bycatch without losing the intended catch. Vertical grids are angled into the center of the net to promote contact with the grid, demonstrating impressive reductions in bycatch (54-66 percent) of important and heavily overfished species.

Special Bycatch Reduction in Tuna Fisheries Prize: Seabird Saver

The Seabird Saver is a bird deterrent based on an innovative laser system and optional acoustic stimulus to actively deter birds from dangerous areas in fishing, reducing bird bycatch and fatalities while optimizing catch for fishermen. The system consists of a mountable, movable laser source and optional sound system.

Experts