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Shark-Saving Magnets Pull in $25,000 Prize for American from International Smart Gear Competition

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A New Jersey inventor today was awarded the grand prize in the International Smart Gear Competition for a fishing gear innovation that could save thousands of sharks a year from dying accidentally on fishing lines, World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and its partners announced.

Grand-prize winner Michael M. Herrmann from SharkDefense -- a research company in New Jersey -- beat out more than 80 other contenders for the Smart Gear prize with an original idea that uses a shark's ability to detect magnetic fields as a way to protect them. Herrmann found that placing strong magnets just above baited hooks on a longline repels certain shark species, averting potential harm to the shark or the fishing gear. He was awarded $25,000 to further test and develop his idea.

Every year, thousands of sharks die after being caught on hooks set by commercial fisheries that are targeting tuna and swordfish. Earlier this month, the World Conservation Union announced that 20 percent of shark species are nearing extinction. Bycatch is a major contributor to their decline.

"WWF created the International Smart Gear Competition to reward and inspire innovative ideas that could reduce fisheries bycatch," said Carter Roberts, president and CEO of World Wildlife Fund. "Bycatch is a critical environmental and economic problem. We need to focus on smarter fishing, which means better targeting of intended catch while safeguarding endangered marine wildlife. It's a goal that fisherman, conservationists and seafood lovers can all support."

Sharks are not the only species affected by bycatch. Millions of tons of fish are also wasted each year as unwanted catch and hundreds of thousands of marine animals are killed through destructive fishing practices. Two other inventions to help bycatch victims were awarded $5,000 runners-up prizes: a floating scarecrow device to scare away seabirds, frequent bycatch casualties caught on the large wires attached to trawl nets, and a flexible grid for trawl nets to allow larger fish that are not targeted catch to swim out safely.

"The National Fisheries Institute has partnered with the International Smart Gear Competition to help generate cost- effective solutions to decrease bycatch -- something that helps fishermen and the resources on which they depend," said John Connelly, president of the National Fisheries Institute. "We know that by reducing the economic and environmental impacts of bycatch, we can provide affordable and plentiful supplies of fish now and for future generations."

The International Smart Gear Competition was created by World Wildlife Fund and a diverse range of partners in May 2004 to bring together fishermen, fisheries, policy and science to find solutions to reduce the unnecessary decline of vulnerable species due to bycatch. The first Smart Gear Competition drew more than 50 entries from 16 countries. This year the competition drew 83 entries from 26 countries, including Belgium, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, Poland, Ecuador, Mexico, New Zealand, Paraguay, the United States and many others.

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