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Saving sharks with magnets


11 May 2006, Brussels, Belgium – Thousands of sharks could be saved from being caught and killed on fishing lines thanks to the winning entry of this year’s WWF-sponsored Smart Gear competition.

Every year thousands of sharks die after becoming snared on hooks set by commercial fisheries to catch fish such as tuna and swordfish. The problem has pushed some shark species to the brink of extinction, with some populations down by 90 per cent. In addition, millions of tonnes of fish each year are wasted as unwanted bycatch — the incidental capture of non-targeted species — and hundreds of thousands of seabirds, mammals, sea turtles and other marine animals are killed through destructive fishing practices.

However, Michael Herrmann, a research associate at the US-based company Shark Defense, has won the 2006 Smart Gear competition for an innovation that addresses the problem of shark bycatch. Knowing that sharks can detect magnetic fields, Herrmann found that placing strong magnets just above the hooks on longline fishing nets can repel certain shark species. He will receive the US$25,000 grand prize to further develop and test his winning idea.

“Solutions do exist, or can be developed, 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 to reduce this critical environmental and economic problem, the waste will continue and in the long term, risk putting the fishing industry out of business.”

Smart Gear runner-up prizes went to Chris Carey of Independent Fisheries Ltd, New Zealand, who proposed a flying scarecrow device to scare away birds from getting caught on wires attached to trawl nets, and to Kristian Zachariasssen, Faroese Fisheries Laboratory, for inventing a lighter, flexible grid for trawl nets that may allow certain fish to escape.

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 unnecessary decline of vulnerable species due to bycatch. More than 80 entries to the competition were received from 26 countries. The winners were chosen by a panel of international judges that included fishermen, researchers, engineers and fisheries managers from all over the world.

“We hope the competition will inspire managers and fishermen to look at practical solutions to reduce the problem of overfishing and declining health of oceans, which is also endangering food security in poorer countries,” said Leape.

“The Smart Gear competition is an opportunity to find, reward and promote what are very often inexpensive, easy ideas that will be widely embraced by fishermen to improve fishing gears and techniques.”


• Over 250,000 endangered loggerhead turtles and critically endangered leatherback turtles are caught annually on longlines set for tuna, swordfish, and other fish, and 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 per cent of hammerhead sharks and 80 per cent of thresher and white sharks have disappeared from the Northeast Atlantic Ocean in the last 18 years, largely due to bycatch.


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