Magnets may save sharks, says WWF | WWF

Magnets may save sharks, says WWF

Posted on
11 May 2006

Brussels, Belgium - Thousands of sharks could be saved from being caught and killed on fishing lines thanks to innovations such as the winning idea emerging from WWF’s International Smart Fishing Gear Competition. At the award ceremony at the European Seafood Expo in Brussels, WWF called on the EU to legislate and promote the use of fishing gears to reduce this critical environmental and economic problem.

Millions of tonnes of fish each year are wasted as unwanted catch and hundreds of thousands of seabirds, mammals, sea turtles and other marine life, including sharks, are killed through destructive fishing practices. This 'incidental' catch is called bycatch and is pushing marine species towards extinction.

Created in 2004, WWF's International Smart Gear Competition is an annual prize inviting people from around the world to develop practical, innovative fishing gear designs that reduce bycatch. More than 80 entries were received from 26 countries in 2006. WWF awards the winner of the best entry approx. €20,000 (US$25,000).

The winner of 2006 award is Michael M Herrmann, a Research Associate at American organization SharkDefense, who came up with a novel solution to reduce shark’s bycatch. As sharks are able to detect magnetic fields, Mr Herrmann found that placing strong magnets just above the hooks on a longline could repel certain shark species.

Every year thousands of sharks die after becoming snared on hooks set by commercial fisheries to catch tuna and swordfish. The problem has pushed some shark species to the brink of extinction, with some populations down by as much as 90 per cent.

“Solutions do exist and there is no excuse for allowing this level of waste in our seas”, said WWF International's Director General James Leape.

“Smarter fishing is critical to ensuring a future for sharks, seabirds and sea turtles. Without urgent and bold legislation from the European Union and other international bodies, the waste will continue and in the long term, risk putting the fishing industry out of business.”

Despite the fact that the EU fishing fleet is one of the most wasteful, since the 2002 Action Plan to reduce bycatch the EU has done virtually nothing to tackle the issue. WWF urges the EU to move forward and put in place a Shark Management Plan, which addresses the problem and encourages trials of devices such as Mr Herrmann’s magnets. The plan should also put in place measures to protect deep-sea sharks, as too little is currently known about the impacts of fishing on these vulnerable species.

According to WWF, the Smart Gear Competition proves that fishing and some commercial sectors are taking up the challenge. The conservation organization says it’s now up to the EU Commission and the Council to follow suit.

Notes to editors:
• Bycatch facts:
- Over 250,000 endangered loggerhead turtles and critically endangered leatherback turtles are caught annually on longlines set for tuna, swordfish, and other fish.
- 26 species of seabird, including 17 albatross species, are threatened with extinction because of longlining, which kills more than 300,000 seabirds each year.
- An estimated 89% of hammerhead sharks and 80% of thresher and white sharks have disappeared from the Northeast Atlantic Ocean in the last 18 years, largely due to bycatch.

• Two runners up, who will each receive approx. €4,000 ($5,000) also proposed ingenious ideas:

- Chris Carey of Independent Fisheries Ltd, New Zealand – Mr. Carey proposed a solution to the problem of birds getting caught on wires attached to trawl nets. Carey attached a rope covered in flailing, brightly coloured material to the wire leading from the boat to the net thus making the wire more visible to birds, that keep away from it.

- Kristian Zachariasssen of the Faroese Fisheries Laboratory -- Many trawlers already insert filter ‘grids’ into their trawl nets. 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. 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. Zachariasssen made a lighter, flexible grid. Because of the grid’s flexibility, water to flows through the net differently, and fewer fish become entangled in the net in front of the grid.

• The winners of the Smart Gear Competition were chosen by a diverse set of judges, including fishermen, researchers, engineers and fisheries managers, representatives of the seafood industry and conservationists from all over the world.

For further information:
Catherine Brett, Communications Officer,
WWF European Policy Office
Tel: +32 2 740 0936
Mobile: +32 485 997 690
E-mail: cbrett@wwfepo.org

Claudia Delpero, Communications Manager,
WWF European Policy Office
Tel: +32 2 740 0925
Mobile: +32 497 406 381,
Email: cdelpero@wwfepo.org

Michael Hermann is the winner of the 2006 Smart Gear Competition.
© WWF
Every year, driftnets kill thousands of sharks and dolphins off the Moroccan coast and in other areas of the Mediterranean.
© WWF / Cat Holloway