The international Smart Gear competition this year attracted 71 entries from 26 countries, including three from Alaska.
Smart Gear, Slammin' Salmon, and Death by Sunscreen 071509 BUSINESS 1 Fish Factor The international Smart Gear competition this year attracted 71 entries from 26 countries, including three from Alaska.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Story last updated at 7/15/2009 - 11:33 am

Smart Gear, Slammin' Salmon, and Death by Sunscreen

The international Smart Gear competition this year attracted 71 entries from 26 countries, including three from Alaska.

The contest was created five years ago by the World Wildlife Fund to inspire and reward new ideas to reduce bycatch - the accidental take of marine mammals, sea birds or small/unwanted fish by various fishing gear.

"Last time we had only one entry from Alaska, so three is certainly an improvement," said WWF program director Mike Osmond. "Maybe next time we'll go for five or six. There's a lot of fishermen in Alaska and I have no doubt there's a lot of good ideas up there"

The ideas from Alaska include a halibut excluder device for trawl nets, and an escape panel for Tanner crab in the Gulf pot cod fishery. Past Smart Gear winners have used magnets to repel sharks from longline gear - one made changes to the chemical properties of fishing ropes and nets. The 2007 winner was a net called the "Eliminator" that uses fish behavior to reduce cod bycatch in haddock fisheries.

Osmond said a Smart Gear entry this year from an East African engineering student really demonstrates the range of ideas - using sound to attract fish.

"His work shows that fish generate different sounds when they are feeding, and at different ages and different species," Osmond explained. "He uses a device inside a trap and when it's full of fish, it also dials the fisherman's cell phone."

A $30,000 cash prize goes to the winning Smart Gear entry; two runners up each get $10,000 and a $7,500 prize is awarded to a developing fisheries region.

Along with the cash prizes, all winners receive help in testing and refining their gear. The ultimate goal, Osmond says, is to get the smarter gear out on the water.

The Smart Gear entries will be judged next month in Tanzania. Winners will be announced in September at the World Fishing Exhibition in Spain. (

Slammin' salmon in the Bay

The world's biggest sockeye salmon run at Bristol Bay is living up to its name. By last Friday the Bay-wide catch already topped the 24 million mark, the projected harvest, and there's still plenty of fishing left to go.

With all the salmon fisheries going on every summer across Alaska, you might wonder why so much attention is focused on Bristol Bay. The answer can be summed up in two words: sockeye salmon.

Bristol Bay's rivers are home to the largest red salmon runs in the world. It is the source of Alaska's most valuable salmon fishery - and nearly one third of the state's total salmon fishing earnings come from Bristol Bay. The Bay also has the most fishermen, with more than 2,800 salmon permit holders. Last year the Bristol Bay salmon fishery was valued at $113 million to fishermen - sockeye salmon accounted for $111 million of that total.

Whereas other fishing regions, such as Copper River, Southeast, Kodiak, Cook Inlet and the Alaska Peninsula, enjoy sockeye salmon catches ranging from one million to four million, Bristol Bay's harvests can top 30 million fish.

Here's how it stacks up in terms of value, based on 2008 dock prices: sockeyes were worth nearly $180 million - almost half the value of Alaska's total salmon harvest. Pink salmon ranked second, at a distant $86 million, followed by chums, valued at $79 million.

Alaska's salmon catch for this year is pegged at 175 million fish, a 20 percent increase from 2008. If the forecast holds true, it will be the 11th largest harvest since statehood. For those big money fish - sockeyes - the projected catch is 38 million, down one million from last year.

Death by sunscreen

All that sun block being slathered on by beach-goers around the world is causing major damage to ocean corals. A study funded by the European Commission revealed that the mix of 20 compounds used to protect skin from the harmful effects of the sun causes rapid bleaching of coral reefs.

The World Trade Organization reports that 10 per cent of world tourism takes place in tropical areas, with nearly 80 million people visiting coral reefs each year. The WTO estimates that up to 6,000 tons of sun screen lotions are released into reef areas each year - and that up to 10 per cent of the world's coral reefs are at risk of "death by sunscreen."

While Alaska's deep sea corals face threats from ocean acidification, they are safe from sun screens. Unlike tropical varieties, Alaska corals don't form reefs - they grow into dense gardens and can live for hundreds of years. The waters surrounding the Aleutian Islands are believed to harbor the most abundant and diverse coldwater corals in the world. Find the sunscreen and corals study in the U.S. Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives.

Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska's seafood industry since 1988. Her weekly Fish Factor column appears in a dozen newspapers and web outlets. Her daily Fish Radio programs air on 27 stations around Alaska. Welch lives in Kodiak.