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Fishermen ‘Get Smart’ about Reducing Bycatch

Bycatch prevention image gallery The science and innovation that define the International Smart Gear Competition and others like it, is a high priority for NOAA Fisheries because bycatch contributes to the problems of overfishing and declining marine ecosystem health, and it endangers food security around the world. Take a look at these other bycatch preventing ideas in this image gallery.

November 17, 2011 - NOAA presented the Grand Prize at World Wildlife Fund’s 2011 International Smart Gear Competition today in Seattle. The competition recognized three fishing devices – including two from U.S. teams – that save lives of seabirds, fish, turtles, and other marine life. NOAA helps fund and further develop winning gear so they may be adopted quickly by fishermen. 

“Bycatch harms endangered and threatened species, contributes to overfishing, damages ecosystems, and is a problem everyone wants to solve,” said John Stein, Ph.D., Acting Science Director for NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center, who presented the grand prize award during the event. “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.”

The biennial Smart Gear competition seeks innovative, environmentally friendly ways to reduce the amount of fisheries bycatch. The science and innovation that define the International Smart Gear Competition and others like it, is a high priority for NOAA Fisheries because bycatch contributes to the problems of overfishing and declining marine ecosystem health, and it endangers food security around the world.

This year’s $30,000 grand prize was awarded to Kazuhiro Yamazaki, a captain on a Japanese tuna vessel.  Mr. Yamazaki also received a special tuna prize of $7,500 offered by the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation (ISSF) for his idea, which would reduce the amount of bycatch occurring in tuna fisheries. The 2011 International Smart Gear Competition also offered two $10,000 runner-up prizes. The runner-up prizes were awarded to a team from Florida that developed a device to reduce fishing mortality in recreational fisheries and a team from San Diego that developed gear that will reduce the bycatch of sea turtles.

The Winning Designs

The winning design – a double-weight branch line – sinks longline hooks beyond the range of seabirds, such as albatrosses and petrels, and it 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 percent as compared to unweighted branch lines, with no effect on fish catch rates.

Attaching an LED light to the line. The 2011 International Smart Gear Competition awarded a runner-up prize to a device designed to address the problem of bycatch of sea turtles in gillnets, an issue that is of significance in many countries around the world.

The first runner-up was a team from Florida who submitted a device called the SeaQualizer. The SeaQualizer increases the survival rate of fish pulled to the surface and then released.  Fish brought up to the surface often undergo an expansion of their air bladder, and so cannot return safely to the ocean depths. The SeaQualizer represents a breakthrough in bycatch release technology that could have a major impact on recreational fishing mortality. Studies have suggested that survival rates greater than 50 percent 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 significantly improve management and stock levels for red snapper and rockfish in particular.

The second runner-up was 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. Turtle Lights for Gillnets uses widely available fishing lights to illuminate gillnets. Trials reduced green turtle interactions by 60 percent 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.

Past Winners See Designs Adapted

In 2007, a U.S. team won the competition’s Grand Prize for a new type of trawl they originally called The Eliminator. Although its name sounds dangerous, it was a real life-saver, reducing about 95 percent of cod bycatch in the New England haddock fishery. The trawl was later renamed the “Ruhle Trawl” in honor of Phil Ruhle, a Rhode Island fisherman who was one of the trawl’s original designers.

The Ruhle Trawl led to a successful partnership between fishermen, conservationists, fishery managers, and scientists as it developed. Together, the group applied their practical experience, project management skills, and knowledge of fishery-related issues to test and refine the invention. Today, the Ruhle Trawl is actively used in the Northeast as a cost-effective tool that benefits both the fishing industry and marine conservation. It’s also part of a bycatch measure mandated by the European Union, and a derivative of this device has been adapted for use in United Kingdom fisheries.

Red Snapper with SeaQualizer The runner-up winning team, from the Florida based company, Finovation Inc., came up with the idea for the SeaQualizer to address a significant problem in the management of some recreational fisheries - the mortality of bottom dwelling fish that are released at the surface as bycatch. The device was selected by the judges for its elegant but effective design and the potential change its adoption could have on decreasing the mortality of fish in the recreational fishing industry.

“After the competition NOAA Fisheries helped fund our research and supplied equipment we couldn’t afford,” said Laura Skrobe, a member of the Ruhle Trawl’s design team. “Fisheries also helped get our data into the management system and expedited the entire process.”

“We’ve always picked winners that rise above the rest in their merit, which is no different this year than previous years,” said Chris Glass, Smart Gear Chairman and Judge. “I am excited about this year’s winners.”

The International Smart Gear Competition was developed by World Wildlife Fund and a range of partners in May 2004 to bring together fishermen, fisheries managers, and researchers to work together to find solutions to reduce bycatch. NOAA Fisheries, Fondation Segré, ISSF, Sea World, and Busch Gardens Conservation Fund sponsored this year’s Smart Gear Competition.

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