The Ocean’s SafetyNet

Commercial fishing innovations designed to limit overall harvest (read: reduce bycatch) are refreshing indeed.

British inventor and multiple award recipient Dan Watson has developed a trawl net that allows non-targeted fish to escape. There have been several developments in the past few years, but his innovation stands out.

The SafetyNet uses hard plastic rings that are illuminated, showing smaller, non-targeted species how to exit. A turbine system built into the rings uses water flow to power the lights. Fish often can’t even see the netting. The rings hold their shape unlike standard mesh configurations, which contract when the net is dragged, making it harder for non-targeted species to escape.

There is also a panel that separates the net into a top and bottom half, capitalizing on targeted and non-targeted species’ stress patterns. For example, cod, which are listed as overfished and/or threatened globally, tend to swim down when stressed, while marketable whiting and haddock tend to swim up. All three species often inhabit the same ecosystem. When encircled by a SafetyNet, the cod swim down where they can escape, while the targeted haddock and whiting swim up and stay in the net. Juveniles escape through the rings.

Equally important, the net cruises about a meter off the ocean floor. Most trawlers use heavy bars or gates that drag the bottom in a wide swath (up to 100 feet), tearing up fragile ecosystems that may never fully recover.  The SafetyNet uses two or three low-profile counterweights that keep the net running low to the bottom, without the standard trawl’s path of destruction.

For his achievement, Watson has won multiple accolades, including the James Dyson Award, for which he received £10,000 (slightly more than $16,000). He has used that money toward growing his company, SafetyNet Technologies to bring the net to market. He expects to complete formal sea trials of the net in the next couple of months to pave the way for commercial availability.

Here’s hoping it delivers on its promise.


Colles Stowell

GreenFish – By Anglers | For Fish

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