Washington, D.C. - Protecting sea turtles, dolphins and whales has become a competitive sport in a first-ever global effort to energize creative fishermen, scientists, and academics to come up with innovative fishing gear that is more selective. With its International Smart Gear Competition, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and its partners hope to reverse the decline of vulnerable species accidentally caught in nets and other fishing gear by awarding a cash prize to the winners and eventually seeing the inventions succeed in international waters.
From a glow-in-the-dark rope that may protect whales in Atlantic waters, to a rotating drum made in Mississippi that presumes the natural tendency of fish to follow a moving pattern, to seabird-proof, "hidden" bait for long-line fishing vessels designed by Dutch inventors, to a simple 3-inch bamboo ring designed to keep dugongs from entering Philippine fishing nets -- the range of inventions submitted to the Smart Gear competition from all six continents has been vast.
"We got entries from 16 countries, from people of a wide range of backgrounds, but most came from fishermen. This isn't surprising, since fishermen produced so many of the bycatch solutions that are already out there," said Karen Baragona, deputy director of the Species Conservation Program at World Wildlife Fund (WWF). "This kind of participation, from every continent, was exactly what we were looking for when we launched Smart Gear back in March 2004. Accidental bycatch is a global problem and it will take multi-national collaboration to defeat it."
The International Smart Gear Competition was created by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in May 2004, to bring together partners representing fisheries, policy, and science to find solutions for the problem of accidental catch of non-target species. Participants responded by submitting ideas for ways to reduce the unnecessary deaths of whales, dolphins, porpoises, dugongs, sea lions, seals, manatees, sea turtles, sea birds and non-target fish species.
The grand prize winner will receive $25,000 and will be chosen by a panel of 15 judges, representing a number of different continents. Two runners-up will be selected and awarded prizes of $5,000 each. Winners will be announced March 9th in Washington, DC. The winning entry will receive assistance from WWF and partners with making their idea commercially available.
The judging panel includes representatives from:
- American Fisheries Society
- Centre 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
- Marine Wildlife Bycatch Consortium (comprised of the New England Aquarium, Duke University, the University of New Hampshire and the Maine Lobstermens Association)
- National Fisheries Institute
- New Zealand-based Sealord Group, Ltd.
- SeaNet (an extension service for fishermen in Australia)
- Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center
- U.K. Center for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science
- U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization
- U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
- University of Rio Grande in Brazil
- World Wildlife Fund
For more information, go to www.smartgear.org or www.worldwildlife.org.