Over the past four decades the marine population has shrunk by 49%, in large part due to overfishing practices. The overexploitation of the seas is a threat to the biodiversity of marine life, but also poses food security risks. Worldwide, fish represents the only source of protein for almost three billion people, and 12% of the global population is dependent on the fishing industry for their livelihood.
One of the problems posed by overfishing is the capture of species and specimens which cannot be commercialized. These fish die senselessly, without serving any purpose or satisfying any human need. To minimize these unnecessary captures, the young innovator Daniel Watson has developed an innovative solution which employs light to enhance the selective nature of each capture. Thanks to this advance, Watson has been named as one of MIT Technology Review, Spanish edition´s Innovators Under 35 Europe 2017.
On combing the water with the fishnets during the trawl fishing scenario, the holes in the fishnets close, preventing smaller fish from escaping. To address this problem, Watson´s company, SafetyNet Technologies, has added reinforcement rings to prevent the holes from collapsing and trapping smaller fish. But most fish are not able to see the net, so Watson decided to equip the rings with LEDs. This way, they serve as emergency exit signs for fish by signaling viable escape routes.
In stressful situations, the small and medium sized fish swim up, while the larger fish swim down. By designing this solution with this in mind, the fishnet focuses on catching exclusively mature species and providing a lighted exit for commercially unsuitable fish. SafetyNet´s lighted rings are powered by integrated turbines which leverage the water flow through the rings to continually charge the batteries.
The commercial fishing industry is highly regulated, which hinders the introduction of new technologies. With the collaboration of fishermen, scientists, regulators and the fish processing industry, SafetyNet designs devices with the most possible applications. "From the first day, I knew I had to design something that fishermen want to use."
SafetyNet Industries has performed tests in the North Sea alongside the British government´s Fishing Research Service which have demonstrated that this technology can reduce the capture of non-target fish by up to 60%. Further trials are underway to study the effect of different types of light on fish.
The general director of IT systems at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and jury member for the Innovators Under 35 Europe 2017 awards, Alejandro Pisanty, qualifies Watson´s project as risky but promising. "The risks are not trivial, but, if it proves effective, the project will resolve an important problem and could be applied to other fisheries," this expert concludes.