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WWF seeks innovative solutions to bycatch through worldwide competition

WASHINGTON, January 27, 2009 Designed to inspire innovative ideas for environmentally-friendly fishing gear, World Wildlife Fund launched the 4th International Smart Gear Competition with a call for new designs for fishing devices that reduce bycatchthe capture of unintended species in fishing gear. The competition is open to anyone and carries with it the chance to win $57,500 in prizes.

"Bycatch is one of the greatest and most pervasive threats to sharks, sea turtles, fish and marine mammals that live in the oceans," said Bill Fox, WWF's vice president of fisheries. "The Smart Gear Competition has proven effective in galvanizing creative thinkers from around the world to develop innovative devices that enable fishermen to fish more sustainably."

Each year, millions of tons of fish are caught as unwanted bycatch, many of which are discarded back into the sea, often dead or dying. Every year, more than four million sharks, billfish, sea turtles, marine mammals and seabirds are caught on longlines in the Pacific Ocean alone. In announcing the competition, WWF officials said they are searching for real-world fishing solutions that allow fishermen to fish 'smarter' able to better target their intended catch while safeguarding the dolphins, sea turtles and other marine life often caught unintentionally.

"Smart Gear represents a unique collaboration among conservationists, fishermen and scientists in support of more sustainable fishing practices," Fox said.

The competition is open to eligible entrants from any profession, including fishermen, professional gear manufacturers, teachers, students, engineers, scientists and backyard inventors, offering anyone a chance to win. The winner is determined by a panel of judges that includes fishermen, researchers, engineers and fisheries managers from all over the world.

The winning designer will receive a $30,000 grand prize. There will also be two $10,000 runner-up prizes and a special $7,500 East-African Marine Eco-Regional Prize for entries specifically addressing the serious bycatch issues in coastal East Africa. This is the second year WWF has offered a special regional prize to encourage inventions that address issues in areas of critical concern. Entries will be judged on innovation, practicality, cost-effectiveness, their ability to reduce bycatch of any species and the overall contribution the invention makes to conservation.

Last year's grand prize winners were a team of U.S. inventors from Rhode Island, who designed fishing gear to capture haddock while reducing the accidental netting of other marine species, such as North Atlantic cod. The device works by taking advantage of the haddock's tendency to swim upward when encountering the net, while other fish, which have a tendency to swim downwards, are directed through an escape hatch. The design is now being used in commercial fisheries off the north-eastern coast of the United States and is being tested for use in the United Kingdom and other European fisheries.

"There is a critical need to protect the health of our oceans, now more than ever before," said Michael Osmond, WWF's senior program officer for fisheries. "Bycatch is a serious issue and discovering practical and effective ways to reduce bycatch should be at the forefront of our efforts."

The Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation, the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund and the Lemelson Foundation are supporting this year's competition.


Contact: Erika Viltz
World Wildlife Fund

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