A team of URI Fisheries Center researchers and local fishermen captured the World Wildlife Fund’s International Smart Gear Competition’s $30,000 grand prize last fall for its unique species-separating net for trawlers. The team beat more than 70 other contenders representing 22 countries.
The net catches haddock while releasing their swimming companions—cod and flounder. Because cod and flounder are heavily restricted by federal regulations, fishermen have to throw thousands of pounds of them back into the ocean when they are caught with the haddock. The cod and flounder rarely survive.
To eliminate the unwanted fish, or bycatch, Jon Knight ’80, ’94, partnered with fellow fishermen Phil Ruhle Sr., Phil Ruhle Jr., and Jim O’Grady to modify a net he designed for the squid industry to see if it could be applied to ground fishing. URI’s Laura Skrobe and David Beutel tested the net—aptly named The Eliminator—and it could.
The Eliminator takes advantage of haddock’s tendency to swim up—but not out of—a large mesh net while other fish swim down. The front end of the net has 8-foot mesh on the bottom that allows cod and flounder to easily escape while smaller, 6-inch mesh on the top traps haddock.
The international competition was created to make fishing smarter by encouraging scientists, engineers, and fishermen to develop technologies that reduce bycatch, both a critical economic and environmental problem.
Great Britain is currently testing The Eliminator in the North Sea, and other countries have expressed interest.
Knight and several URI scientists have received additional funding for other versions of the net for use on smaller boats.