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International Smart Gear Competition Lands Over 80 Entries

Contestants from 26 countries climb on board with WWF in the search for smarter fishing gear

WASHINGTON - More than 80 inventors have entered the second International Smart Gear Competition in the hope of winning the $25,000 grand prize for the best new fishing gear that will allow fishermen to target their intended catch while leaving whales, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks and other marine life untouched.

"World Wildlife Fund is excited to see that so many people from different countries around the world are concerned about the sustainability of their fishing practices, said Scott Burns, director of WWF's Marine Program. "Working together, we can make fishing 'smarter' - better targeting intended catch while safeguarding endangered marine wildlife and decreasing waste. The International Smart Gear Competition is intended to reward and inspire smarter fishing with smarter gear."

The first annual Smart Gear Competition drew over 50 entries from 16 countries. This year the competition drew 83 entries from 26 countries on six continents, including Belgium, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, Poland, Ecuador, Mexico, and New Zealand, Paraguay, and the United States among others.

Smart Gear encompasses the entire range of fishing gear from super high tech to the very simple and rudimentary. From underwater "kites" to acoustical, chemical, and magnetic repellents to a hook and line design termed "the octopus," the entries are as diverse as the various bycatch problems that they are designed to solve.

The next step is for the judges to award a $25,000 grand prize and two $5,000 runner-up prizes to the top designs. The judges of the competition are an elite group of gear technicians, fishermen, researchers, engineers and fisheries managers from all over the world and they will be looking for the most practical, cost-effective methods for reducing bycatch of any species

Conventional fishing gear does often not allow users to selectively target their catch. As a result, non-target fish species, marine mammals, birds, sea turtles and non-target fish species are caught and sometimes killed. As much as one fifth of all animals caught in fishing gear are thrown away as bycatch. Current estimates show that between 7 and 20 million tonnes of marine life that were not meant to be caught are still taken, either to be discarded or utilized in some way. This bycatch is the leading threat to many endangered marine mammals, sea turtles and sea birds around the world.

Last year, WWF awarded three new practical solutions to marine bycatch: a system for keeping longlines away from sea turtles by a former high-school biology teacher and commercial fisherman; changes to the chemical properties of fishing ropes and nets by a North American team; and modified trawls to reduce bycatch of undersized shrimp and fish by a team of Indian scientists.