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Scientists, Industry, Conservationists Launch Competition for Fishing Gear that Reduces Wildlife Deaths

$25,000 Grand Prize for "Smart Gear" that Lowers Bycatch Rate

Vancouver -- An unprecedented coalition of fishermen, scientists and conservation groups announced the launch of the International Smart Gear Competition today. The contest seeks innovative fishing gear that reduces bycatch -- the accidental deaths of marine mammals, birds, sea turtles and non-target fish species.

The competition -- announced at a press conference on the opening day of the 4th World Fisheries Congress here -- is open to anyone and will award a $25,000 grand prize to the design judged to be the most practical, cost-effective method for reducing bycatch of any species. The winner will also be provided with assistance in bringing the design to market.

"We're looking for real-world solutions that allow fishermen to better target their catch and that reduce the economic and ecological costs of using inefficient gear," said Wally Pereyra, chairman of the board of the National Fisheries Institute, the leading trade association for the U.S. fish and seafood industry. "This unusual collaboration is an effort to address the limitations of gear technology."

Entanglement in fishing gear is the leading threat to marine mammals around the globe, as noted in the report released last month by the U.S. Oceans Commission. Conventional fishing gear often doesn't allow users to selectively target their catch. As a result, non-target fish species, marine mammals, birds and sea turtles are caught and sometimes killed.

"Bycatch is one of the biggest threats to healthy marine ecosystems and results in large economic losses to fishermen," said Tom Grasso of World Wildlife Fund's marine conservation program. "We hope this competition is able to harness the creativity and ingenuity of fishermen, students and the public to reduce the waste caused by inefficient gear." Gus Rassam, chief executive officer of the Fisheries Conservation Foundation, noted that bycatch has been reduced in a number of fisheries where scientists and fishermen have worked together.

"Even in fisheries where species are in crisis because of bycatch, solutions that allow fishermen to continue fishing and reduce bycatch are attainable. The implementation of acoustic 'pingers' on gillnets to scare away dolphins, and circle hooks for longlining that reduce sea turtle mortality, grew out of collaborations between fishermen and scientists," Rassam said.

Participants in the International Smart Gear Competition are asked to develop fishing gears or methods that increase selectivity for target fish species and reduce bycatch of non-target species in ways that still allow fishermen to fish profitably. The competition is open to anyone -- including professional gear manufacturers, backyard inventors, fishermen, students, engineers and scientists.

There are three categories for entries: gear that reduces sea turtle bycatch, gear that reduces cetacean bycatch, and gear that reduces bycatch of any other non-target species. The winning entry will receive funding to take the design from the drawing-board stage to prototype development, testing, and initial manufacture.

"Reducing wasteful practices like bycatch is essential to the health of our oceans," said Scott Kraus of the New England Aquarium and the coordinator of the Marine Wildlife Bycatch Consortium. "Finding ways to fish smarter, and fish safer, is a win-win proposition for fishermen, fish stocks and our marine ecosystems."

"Our team has designed trawls that allow groundfish to escape from shrimp fisheries and we're testing gear that could reduce bycatch of Mexico's critically endangered vaquita porpoise," said Glenn Blackwood of the Marine Institute of Memorial University of Newfoundland, where the Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Resources houses the world's largest flume tank, used to test gear. "We know from experience that solving the world's bycatch problems requires more attention, creativity and incentives, and we're excited to be part of a competition that's producing all three."

The winner of the International Smart Gear Competition will be decided by judges from World Wildlife Fund, the National Fisheries Institute, the American Fisheries Society, the Fisheries Conservation Foundation, the Marine Wildlife Bycatch Consortium (comprised of the New England Aquarium, Duke University, the University of New Hampshire and the Maine Lobstermens Association), the Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Resources at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Note to editors: For more information on the International Smart Gear Competition, go to www.smartgear.org.

Contacts: To speak to experts attending the World Fisheries Congress -- including officials from the National Fisheries Institute, the Fisheries Conservation Foundation and World Wildlife Fund -- call Tom Lalley in Vancouver at 202/997-0899 (cell phone).

For experts from the Marine Wildlife Bycatch Consortium, contact Tony LaCasse at the New England Aquarium, 617/973-5213.

For experts from the Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Resources, contact Glenn Blackwood at Memorial University of Newfoundland, 709/778-0430.