Smart Gear 2011: Seabirds off the Hook!

Posted on 17 November 2011

WWF announced three new fishing devices to save lives of seabirds, fish, turtles, and other marine life, as the winners of the 2011 International Smart Gear Competition today in Seattle, Washington.

Washington DC – WWF announced three new fishing devices to save lives of seabirds, fish, turtles, and other marine life, as the winners of the 2011 International Smart Gear competition today in Seattle, Washington.

The biennial Smart Gear competition seeks innovative, environmentally-friendly ways to reduce the amount of fisheries bycatch – a problem that causes the death of millions of tonnes of untargeted marine life, such as non-commercial or juvenile fish, marine mammals, turtles and seabirds that are caught in fishing gear and then thrown back to sea. This unintentional or unused catch is estimated to account for at least 40% of what is taken from our oceans each year and contributes heavily to overfishing.

One grand prize and two runner-up awards were granted during the ceremony today. This year’s US$30,000 grand prize was awarded to Kazuhiro Yamazaki, a captain on a Japanese tuna vessel who also received another tuna prize of US$7,500, granted by the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF), for the idea that would reduce the amount of bycatch specifically occurring in tuna fisheries – one of WWF’s top global fisheries conservation priorities. US$10,000 of the prize money will go to fund activities, such as testing and marketing that will help to make the winning idea widely available.

Mr. Yamazaki’s winning design – a double-weight branch line – sinks long line hooks beyond the range of seabirds, such as albatrosses and petrels. It also reduces injuries and fatalities to crews caused by rapidly recoiling weights and hooks. In 2010, over 95,000 branch lines with the double weight system were hauled with no injuries, reducing seabird bycatch by 89% as compared to un-weighted branch lines, with no effect on fish catch rates.

Practical, effective, everyday solutions to the problem of bycatch

“Smart Gear represents a unique collaboration among conservationists, fishermen, and scientists to develop innovative devices that enable fishermen to fish more sustainably. The creative inventions designed by the winners of the Smart Gear competition promise practical, effective, everyday solutions to the problem of bycatch, which threatens the health of our oceans,” said Bill Fox, WWF-US Vice President for Fisheries.

“The dedication and determination of innovators like Mr. Yamazaki is crucial to our ability to maintain both ocean health and prosperity. The Yamazaki Double Weight Branchline
is simple but practical for solving the sustainability challenges we face, and shows that one person’s idea can have the potential to make a difference globally if we continue to work smart and work together,” said Susan Jackson, ISSF President.

“Bycatch harms endangered and threatened species, contributes to overfishing, damages ecosystems, and is a problem everyone wants to solve,” said John Stein,
PhD, Acting Science Director for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NOAA). “NOAA is an enthusiastic partner in this competition, which values the expertise of fishermen, who test fishing gear more than anyone and know firsthand how bycatch threatens the sustainability of marine resources and of their own industry.”

Runner up

The competition also offered two US$10,000 runner-up prizes to the second and third winners.

The first runner-up prize winner was a device called the SeaQualizer, which was submitted by a team from Florida. The SeaQualizer is a simple device that increases the survival rate of fish that experience barotrauma symptoms. When pulled to the surface, many fish undergo an expansion of their air bladder, and cannot return safely to the ocean depths. The SeaQualizer represents a breakthrough in bycatch release technology that could have a major impact on fish mortality in the recreational angling sector. Studies have suggested that survival rates greater than 50% are possible, depending on the species and the depth from which they are raised. If widely accepted by the recreational fishing community, the SeaQualizer could result in significant improvements in management and stock levels for red snapper and rockfish in particular.

The second runner-up was awarded to a team from Ocean Discovery Institute in San Diego and University of Hawaii for a device called Turtle Lights for Gillnets, which is designed to reduce the bycatch of sea turtles in gill nets. Turtle Lights for Gillnets uses widely available fishing lights to illuminate gillnets. Trials reduced green turtle interactions by 60% without affecting target catch rates or catch value. The award-winning team hypothesizes that the illumination creates enough of a visual cue to alert sea turtles to the presence of a net so that they can avoid it.

The International Smart Gear Competition was created by WWF 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 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Fondation Segré, ISSF, Sea World and Busch Gardens Conservation Fund sponsored this year’s Smart Gear Competition.
Kazuhiro Yamazaki, Japan
© Troy Guy
Sea bird caught in a net, North Atlantic Ocean.
Sea bird caught in a net, North Atlantic Ocean.
© WWF / Mike R. Jackson