Thursday, November 6, 2014

2014 WWF Smart Gear competition wraps up in Newfoundland

Written by Steve Eayrs - Research Scientist at The Gulf of Maine Research Institute 

Recently I had the pleasure of spending two days in St John’s, Newfoundland, helping to judge entries in the 2014 WWF International Smart Gear competition. Held every few years, this competition seeks to encourage fishermen, scientists, and others from around the world to develop fishing gear that reduces fisheries bycatch in commercial or recreational fisheries. The competition provides a financial prize of $30,000 to the winning entry and $10,000 to two runner-up entries, as well as recognition of winning an international competition judged by a panel of fishing technology experts from around the world. This year, two additional prizes of $7,500 were available, one to entries that addressed bycatch in tuna fisheries and another to entries that addressed marine mammal bycatch in gillnet fisheries.

While I am unable to divulge too much information about the entries (winning entries will be formally announced in November) I can I can say they were received from across the globe including, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Uruguay, Kenya, Finland, Norway, United Kingdom, and the USA. The entries presented ideas, concepts, and results in bycatch reduction research using a variety of fishing gears, some common to US fisheries, including trawls, gillnets, pots and traps, plus some less common including set nets and purse seines. Many entries were aimed at tackling the bycatch of teleost species, although sharks, mammals, and sea turtles also featured prominently. The criteria for judging the entries was based on innovation, bycatch reduction, maintenance of target catch, overall conservation impact, and practicality/cost-effectiveness.  
Especially noteworthy this year was an entry from a Middle school student in New Jersey. While the competition’s age limitation precluded consideration of this entry, it was noteworthy because it was received from a school student. The entry was also highly encouraging because the student had prepared a very thoughtful competition entry to address a specific bycatch issue and it demonstrated a surprising breadth of knowledge of fisheries issues.

The Eliminator Trawl - 2007 Smart Gear Competition Winner.  Targets haddock while avoiding other species such as cod and flounder.  Designed by Jon Knight of Superior Trawl - Narragansett, Rhode Island

This year, competition judging was hosted by Memorial Institute in St. John’s, Newfoundland. This institute is noteworthy for the only flume tank in North America – a facility used to test scale model fishing gear – which has been used for many years by US fishermen to test and develop fishing gear. GEARNET took advantage of this facility a few years back by funding over 20 fishermen and others from New England to attend a one-week training course on fishing gear design, selectivity, and energy conservation. As we have come to know only too well, staff from the institute were incredibly warm and hospitable, and for the duration of our visit they generously contributed to many of the meeting costs.
Unfortunately, while this competition is incredibly well known across the globe and is providing a very real and meaningful contribution to bycatch reduction, there is no guarantee it will continue in the future. Funding for the competition from existing sources is becoming ever more challenging, and limited options to source funds from elsewhere could result in its demise. This would be an incredibly sad outcome for a unique competition, especially when bycatch remains such a significant problem in fisheries around the world. Hopefully, this will not become a reality.
Steve Eayrs

The judging panel consists of twelve experts in fishing technology from around the world, including USA, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, and Norway.

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