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Shark-Saving Magnets Pull in $25,000 Prize for American from International Smart Gear Competition

Invention could prevent thousands of accidental deaths of sharks in fishing lines

WASHINGTON, May 11, 2006 - A New Jersey inventor today was awarded the grand prize in the International Smart Gear Competition for a fishing gear innovation that could save thousands of sharks a year from dying accidentally on fishing lines, World Wildlife Fund and its partners announced.

Grand-prize winner Michael M. Herrmann from SharkDefense - a research company in New Jersey - beat out more than 80 other contenders for the Smart Gear prize with an original idea that uses a shark's ability to detect magnetic fields as a way to protect them. Herrmann found that placing strong magnets just above baited hooks on a longline repels certain shark species, averting potential harm to the shark or the fishing gear. He was awarded $25,000 to further test and develop his idea.

Every year, thousands of sharks die after being caught on hooks set by commercial fisheries that are targeting tuna and swordfish. Earlier this month, the World Conservation Union announced that 20 percent of shark species are nearing extinction. Bycatch is a major contributor to their decline.

"WWF created the International Smart Gear Competition to reward and inspire innovative ideas that could reduce fisheries bycatch," said Carter Roberts, president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund. "Bycatch is a critical environmental and economic problem. We need to focus on smarter fishing, which means better targeting of intended catch while safeguarding endangered marine wildlife. It's a goal that fisherman, conservationists and seafood lovers can all support."

Sharks are not the only species affected by bycatch. Millions of tons of fish are also wasted each year as unwanted catch and hundreds of thousands of marine animals are killed through destructive fishing practices. Two other inventions to help bycatch victims were awarded $5,000 runners-up prizes: A floating scarecrow device to scare away seabirds, frequently bycatch casualties caught on the large wires attached to trawl nets, and a flexible grid for trawl nets to allow larger fish that are not targeted catch to swim out safely.

"The National Fisheries Institute has partnered with the International Smart Gear Competition to help generate cost-effective solutions to decrease bycatch - something that helps fishermen and the resources on which they depend," said John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute. "We know that by reducing the economic and environmental impacts of bycatch, we can provide affordable and plentiful supplies of fish now and for future generations."

The International Smart Gear Competition was created by World Wildlife Fund 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. The first Smart Gear Competition drew more than 50 entries from 16 countries. This year the competition drew 83 entries from 26 countries, including Belgium, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, Poland, Ecuador, Mexico, and New Zealand, Paraguay, the United States and many others.

For more information on the International Smart Gear competition visit

Other Information Regarding Bycatch and the Smart Gear Competition:

  • Over 250,000 endangered loggerhead turtles and critically endangered leatherback turtles are caught annually on longlines set for tuna, swordfish, and other fish.
  • There are 26 species of seabirds, including 17 albatross species, threatened with extinction because of longlining, which kills more than 300,000 seabirds each year.
  • An estimated 89 percent of hammerhead sharks and 80 percent of thresher and white sharks have disappeared from the Northeast Atlantic Ocean in the last 18 years, largely due to bycatch.
  • Runner-up prize winner Chris Carey of Independent Fisheries Ltd in New Zealand proposed a solution to the problem of birds getting caught on wires attached to trawl nets. Carey attached a rope covered in flailing, brightly colored material to the wire leading from the boat to the net thus making the wire more visible to birds so they may avoid it.
  • Runner-up prize winner Kristian Zachariassen of the Faroese Fisheries Laboratory in the Faroese Islands proposed the insertion of a flexible filter grid called a 'flexi-grid' into a trawl net. Fish which are too big to pass through the grid are able to get out of the net through an escape hatch in the front of the grid. Grids are already used by many trawlers, however the flow of water through the net means non-target fish still become caught on the sides of the net in front of the grid. The grids are also often extremely heavy. Zachariassen made a lighter, flexible grid. Because of the grid's flexibility, water flows through the net differently and fewer fish become entangled in the net in the front of the grid.
  • The International Smart Gear Competition judging panel included representatives from: the American Fisheries Society, Center for Sustainable Aquatic Resources at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Fisheries Conservation Foundation, Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute, Institute of Marine Research in Norway, Inter-America Tropical Tuna Commission, , New Zealand-based Sealord Group, Ltd., SeaNet (an extension service for fishermen in Australia), U.K. Center for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (serving as technical advisor), University of Rio Grande in Brazil, and World Wildlife Fund.
  • Additional partners in the Competition include: Marine Wildlife Bycatch Consortium (includes the New England Aquarium, Duke University, the University of New Hampshire, and the Maine Lobstermen's Association), Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center, The Blue Water Fisherman's Association, Environmental Defence, The Fisheries Conservation Foundation, The National Fisheries Institute, Sea Change Investment Fund and WorldFish Center.