Underwater Baited Hook Wins Smart Gear Grand Prize

A team of two Australian inventors won the grand prize in the International Smart Gear Competition for fishing gear that could save thousands of seabirds from dying accidentally on longlines each year, World Wildlife Fund and its partners announced.

The winners were officially announced in Vigo, Spain on Sept. 17 at the World Fishing Exhibition.

Phil Ashworth, general manager of Australia-based Amerro Engineering, and Graham Robertson, Ph.D., a principal research scientist with the Australian Antarctic Division, won the grand prize. 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.

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."

This year's winners faced 71 other contenders from 27 countries.

Two other inventions won runner-up prizes of $10,000. 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 operators, which 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.

"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) supported this year's competition.

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