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Unique Invention From Australian Team Awarded International Smart Gear Competition Grand Prize

New Device Is Win For Environment and Business, Holds Promise for Major Improvements in Large Industrial Fishing Fleets While Reducing Seabird Deaths

WASHINGTON, DC, September 17, 2009 –A team of two Australian inventors today will be awarded the grand prize in the International Smart Gear Competition for a fishing gear innovation that could save thousands of seabirds from dying accidentally on longlines each year, World Wildlife Fund and its partners announced.  The winners will be officially announced in Vigo, Spain today at the World Fishing Exhibition.  

The Grand Prize winning team consists of Phil Ashworth, general manager of Australia-based Amerro Engineering and Dr. Graham Robertson, a principal research scientist with the Australian Antarctic Division.  Their invention – the underwater baited hook – allows longline vessels to set baited hooks underwater out of reach of seabirds. Designed for use on coastal tuna and swordfish vessels worldwide, the invention minimizes or eliminates mortality of seabirds including albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters, which seize bait on the water surface or deep dive and are accidentally killed.  This unique underwater bait setting technology solves a huge conservation problem with the use of longlines particularly in large industrial fleets.  This year’s International Smart Gear Competition Grand Prize winners beat out more than 71 other contenders from 27 countries.

Every year hundreds of thousands of marine animals, including seabirds are killed through destructive fishing practices.  Additionally, millions of tons of untargeted fish die and are discarded as unwanted catch, called bycatch. 

 “WWF created the International Smart Gear Competition to reward and inspire innovative ideas to reduce fisheries bycatch,” says Bill Fox, WWF’s vice president of fisheries. “Bycatch is both an environmental and economic problem, and one of the greatest and most pervasive threats to seabirds, sharks, sea turtles, fish and marine mammals that live in the oceans.  Smart Gear represents a unique collaboration among conservationists, fishermen, and scientists to develop innovative devices that enable fishermen to fish more sustainably.”  

Two other inventions to help reduce bycatch have won runner up prizes of $10,000 for their inventors.  A team from Belgian’s Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research (ILVO) won for their invention named Hovercran, which substantially reduces bycatch in shrimp trawls.  The other runner-up prize winner is David Sterling, of Australia’s Sterling Trawl Gear Services, who developed a device called the Batwing Board, an alternative to the standard trawl door used by most trawl operators, which both reduces impact to the sea bottom by approximately 90% and reduces fuel consumption.

This year’s competition also features a special East African Marine prize of $7,500 which has been awarded to Samwel B. Bikkens of Kenya’s Moi University for his device known as The Selector.”

The invention makes use of fish responses to light and water movement to address a bycatch problem in Lake Victoria, the largest lake in East Africa and an important fishery in the region. This is the second year that WWF has offered a special regional prize to encourage inventions that address issues in areas of critical concern.

 “The creative inventions designed by the winners of the Smart Gear Competition promise practical, effective, everyday solutions to the problem of bycatch  - a serious issue which threatens the health of our oceans,” say Michael Osmond, WWF’s senior program officer for fisheries, who directs the competition. 

The Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation, The Marisla Foundation, the Sea World & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, the Lemelson Foundation, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) are supporting this year’s Smart Gear Competition. 

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 71 entries from 27 countries, including Peru, Uruguay, French Guiana, and the Ukraine.

For more information on the International Smart Gear competition visit www.worldwildlife.org or www.smartgear.org. Images and video are available for media by request.

Other information regarding bycatch and the 2009 International Smart Gear Competition:

  • 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.
  • As many as 250,000 endangered loggerhead turtles and critically endangered leatherback turtles are caught annually on longlines set for tuna, swordfish, and other fish.
  • 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 20 years, largely due to bycatch.
  • The International Smart Gear Competition winner is determined by a panel of judges that includes fishermen, researchers, engineers and fisheries managers from all over the world. This year’s judging panel included 12 judges from 6 countries. The competition is open to eligible entrants from any profession, including fishermen, professional gear manufacturers, teachers, students, engineers, scientists and backyard inventors, offering anyone a chance to win.  Entries are judged on innovation, practicality, cost-effectiveness, their ability to reduce bycatch of any species and the overall contribution the invention makes to conservation. The next competition will be in 2011.