Saving Marine Life with LED Fishing Nets

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Bycatching, defined in the fishing industry of accidentally catching unwanted fish and marine species are a threat to the marine ecosystem and endangered marine species.

Globally about 40 percent of marine life that wind up in the fishing net goes wasted or unmanaged, according to a report by Ensia. “The way we catch now is to catch everything, decide what we want to keep, and discard the rest,” said Martin Hall, head of the bycatch program at the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission, which regulates tuna fishing in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

Dan Watson's LED fish net SafetyNet design. (All Photos Courtesy of SafetyNet)

To change the tide of unsustainable fishing practices, some designers have jumped in with unique designs to prevent bycatch and overfishing. Inspired by an incident of Scottish fisherman exceeding the European Union catch quota and dumping back five metric tons of dead fish back into the North Sea in 2008, a British designer Dan Watson has come up with LED fish nets. The LED fish net with its large light hoops alert smaller fish and allows younger fish to escape from the net, said Watson.

Fisherman are also increasingly recognizing the importance of using better gear, such as fisherman Christopher Brown from Massachusetts, U.S. Brown designed a squid net type fishing net, which has an escape route at the base of the net to encourage unwanted bottom-dwelling flounders to flee from the gap.

Top: The LED used in the net up close. Bottom: The fishing net cast under water. 

Globally, thousands of sea turtles are often snared and drowned by fishnets because they are invisible underwater, said John Wang, project leader and a researcher with the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research who works as a fisheries research ecologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Wang’s team has found LED lights fixed onto nets under a certain wavelength made visible to turtles, could prevent sea turtles from being ensnared by fishing nets. With the new tool, bycatch was reduced by 60 percent during trials in Mexico, Peru, and Indonesia.

Wang’s research team has found different light wavelengths tend to affect fish differently, and is currently working on using UV illuminated nets to keep hammerhead sharks away.

However, it still all boils down to economics, and whether the nets are going to be affordable enough for fisherman to use on a daily basis. The World Wildlife Fund has regularly hosted the International Smart Gear Competition to encourage dialogue between designers and researchers, and offering prize money as cash incentives for project funding. This year the funding has reached US $65,000 with US $30,000 set aside for the winner.

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