Seabird saving invention snags top Smart Gear prize

WWF 15 Sep 09;

Vigo, Spain – A team of Australian inventors today were awarded the $30,000 grand prize in the International WWF Smart Gear Competition for a fishing gear innovation that could save thousands of seabirds from dying accidentally on longlines each year.

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 accidental mortality of seabirds including albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters, which are sometimes killed in the fishing gear when they attempt to seize bait attached to longline hooks.

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. WWF and its partners made the awards announcement today at the World Fishing Exhibition in Vigo, Spain.

Every year, unselective fishing catches non-target animals as ‘bycatch’ – an issue that causes the death of hundreds of thousands of marine animals, including seabirds. A recently published study defines bycatch as unmanaged or unused catch and on this basis it is estimated that bycatch accounts for at least 40% of what is taken from our oceans each year.

”With bycatch accounting for at least 40% of what is taken from our oceans each year, competitions like Smart Gear are critical opportunities to stimulate and showcase new technologies to reduce this threat,” said Dr. Robin Davies, Interim Leader of WWF’s Bycatch Initiative. “It is inspiring to see how many innovative ideas were submitted to the Smart Gear Competition because it reflects a dedicated and extremely diverse group of people who are committed to finding solutions to bycatch.”

Two other inventions to help reduce bycatch 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 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 percent 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.

For more information on the International Smart Gear competition go to: www.smartgear.org.

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