Weighted, Deep-Set Fishing Line Takes WWF Smart Gear Prize

WASHINGTON, DC, April 26, 2005 (ENS) - An American working in New Caledonia has won the grand prize in a new international competition to devise technologies that protect marine life while improving the efficiency of commercial fishing. The winning invention weighs a main fishing line down with lead weights and releases the baited hooks deeper than 100 meters (328 feet), which allows longline fishermen to minimize encounters with sea turtles and maximize their tuna catch.

The International Smart Gear Competition was created by WWF-US in May 2004 to bring together partners representing fishermen, fisheries, policy and science to find solutions that will reduce the decline of vulnerable species due to bycatch. Applicants from 16 countries applied their skills to solving this global problem.

“While it’s obvious how vital the ocean’s been to me, we’re all dependent on an ocean full of life and, in turn, it’s dependent on our actions,” said grand prize winner Steve Beverly, a fisheries development officer for the Pacific Community Secretariat (PCS).

An international panel of expert judges unanimously awarded Beverley the grand prize and US$25,000 because the idea is simple, inexpensive, relies on basic ecological research and modifies existing gear so fishermen will not have to buy or be trained on complicated new gear.


Steve Beverly is winner of the WWF International Smart Gear Competition. (Photo courtesy WWF)
“It’s just common sense to create smarter fishing gear," said Beverly, who is a former high school biology teacher, and a longtime fisherman. He has worked as a longline tuna fisherman, spiny lobster fisherman, commercial diver and tugboat operator in Hawaii; he explored for bottom fish and crayfish in Australia, New Zealand and the Pitcairn Islands; he fished as a commercial longline fisherman Fiji and Guam; and now he has become a masterfisherman for SPC in New Caledonia.

Successful testing of Beverly's idea has been conducted by three vessels fishing for tuna in Pacific waters. In initial testing, 42 percent more bigeye tuna were caught using Beverly’s new weighted, deep-set gear.

Beverly observes that fisheries’ logbook data and studies of sea turtle behavior show that sea turtles swim and become hooked in shallower waters than tuna, the target species of most longline commercial fishing.

According to researchers at Duke University, more than 200,000 loggerheads and 50,000 leatherbacks are accidentally caught each year by commercial longline fisheries. All species of marine turtles are considered to be in danger of extinction.

Two groups of inventors also won recognition in the Smart Gear Competition.


Massachusetts fisherman Don King is part of the team that invented gear to protect cetaceans. (Photo courtesy )
The three person team of chemist Norm Holy from Pennsylvania, fisherman Don King from Massachusetts, and fisheries biologist Ed Trippel from Canada and won in the cetaceans category. To create avoidable, detectable, safer gear, the team worked with the chemical properties of the ropes and came up with a combination of glowing ropes and stiffer nets.

Their gear helps marine mammals detect and avoid gillnets before coming into contact with them, and it allows them to escape unharmed if they still become entangled.

More than 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises are estimated to die every year from entanglement in fishing gear, more than from any other cause, WWF says.

A four person team from the Central Institute of Fisheries Technology in India was recognized for their invention to reduce the bycatch of juvenile shrimp and fish in shrimp trawls.

Dr. M.R. Boopendranath, Dr. P. Pravin, T.R. Gibinkumar and S. Sabu developed a system of angled metal grids and net meshes that catches and sorts mature shrimp and finfish, while allowing juvenile shrimp and fish to swim away unharmed.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, hundreds of millions of dollars are lost each year when juvenile fish and non-target fish are lost to bycatch.


Honored for prevention of non-target species bycatch are, from left, S. Sabu, T.R. Gibinkumar, Dr. Boopendranath and Dr. Pravin. (Photo courtesy WWF)
Sorting mature shrimp and finfish between the lower and upper parts of the net helps to reduce the time the trawler crew spends sorting on deck. This enhances profitability, allowing more time for productive fishing. The system also prevents shrimp from being crushed under the weight of fish and bycatch hauled up on deck, and making the shrimp more valuable in the marketplace.

“Reducing wasteful practices like bycatch is essential to the health of our oceans and a win-win proposition for fishermen, fish stocks and our marine ecosystems,” said Malcolm McNeill, a judge for the International Smart Gear Competition and vessel manager of global fishing company Sealord Group Ltd.

“Fishing responsibly and reducing bycatch is a top priority for Sealord so we're eager to test some of these Smart Gear ideas in our operations,” McNeill said.

“These solutions safeguard our living oceans,” said Carter Roberts, president and CEO-elect of WWF-US.

“When WWF began the Smart Gear competition, we looked for real-world solutions to protect the fantastic variety of marine life, increase efficiency and profitability for fishermen, and preserve the bounty of the sea for future generations. Today, I’m happy to announce our competition reeled in three promising innovations.”

The International Smart Gear Competition judging panel included representatives from: