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Lasers, Escape Windows and Air Cannons Among Innovative Ideas in Competition to Reduce Fisheries Bycatch

WASHINGTON, D.C., Jan 13, 2015 – Lasers, shark repellent, escape windows, air cannons—these are not the makings of an action movie but the winning ideas from World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) International Smart Gear Competition. These are the latest innovations in an effort to address the global problem of fisheries bycatch—the unintentional catch of fish and other animals in fishing gear.

This year’s $30,000 grand prize was awarded to a Norwegian team for a device that addresses bycatch in purse seine fisheries. The device, “Air Powered Sampling for Purse Seine Fisheries,” allows fishermen to check the contents of the net in the early phase of fishing, away from the vessel, before a net becomes crowded and fish stress and harm occurs. Using an air cannon, a sampling tube containing a mini-trawl is launched into the net to collect a small sample of fish. If the sampled fish are not the right size or type, the seine can easily be opened to release them. Performing sampling at this early stage, when the net is not full, ensures greater survival of fish if they need to be released.

The Smart Gear Competition also awarded two $10,000 runner-up prizes: one which deters sharks from longline hooks and the other that helps reduce the number of flatfish accidentally caught in trawl nets.

The “Super Polyshark,” designed by Florida researchers Dr. Eric Stroud and Dr. Patrick Rice, is a pellet that fishers insert into squid bait before they place on longline hooks. The pellet dissolves in the water, creating an odor that repels sharks.

A team of seven, including fishermen and scientists from Germany, designed the other runner-up winning device, “Freswind (Flatfish Rigid Escape Windows).” They created an escape window system for trawl nets based on fish shape, allowing flatfish to exit while maintaining target roundfish catch.

The 2014 competition also awarded a special prize for an idea that would reduce the amount of bycatch occurring in longline tuna fisheries. A Dutch team earned the prize for the “Seabird Saver,” which uses an innovative laser system and sound to deter seabirds from fishing gear.

“The Smart Gear competition shows what’s possible when great minds get together to solve environmental challenges. These wildly innovative ideas offer creative and practical solutions to reducing the needless deaths of so many marine animals, while helping save fishermen time and resources,” said Bill Fox, World Wildlife Fund’s U.S. vice president for fisheries.

“Bycatch can be a real problem, one that everyone wants to solve. The new tools showcased this year will help fishers and will aid in sustaining our ocean ecosystems,” said John Stein, Ph.D., NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center Director.

Fondation Segré, Bumble Bee Foods, John West Foods, the Marine Mammal Commission, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and WWF sponsored the 2014 International Smart Gear Competition.

The International Smart Gear Competition was created by WWF and a diverse range of partners in May 2004 to bring together fishermen, fisheries, policy and science to find solutions to reduce the unnecessary decline of vulnerable species due to bycatch.

For more information on the International Smart Gear Competition, visit www.smartgear.org.

Images are available for media by request.

Freswind video demo: http://vimeo.com/channels/801304