LEDs are lighting up the battle against overfishing

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Dan Watson has created a system of smart nets to combat the world´s overfishing problem.

While Dan Watson was studying his Master´s degree, he decided he wanted to create a solution to the overfishing problem and boost the sustainability of the global fishing industry. Watson saw news pieces about fishermen arrested for capturing species not classified as harvestable. Some of these fishermen highlighted the lack of prevention tools in their defense. These fish were released back into the sea after capture, where they ended up dying. It was then that an idea began to take shape in the mind of this mechanical engineer and product designer, trained at the University of Glasgow and the Glasgow School of Art (both in the United Kingdom): a system of smart fishing nets designed to reduce the capture, and subsequent discarding, of non-target fish. Today, Watson continues work on this system as the CEO of Safety Net Technologies, the company which he founded three years ago.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), between 8% and 25% of the species captured are discarded, which translates into over 27 million tons of fish wasted each year. But Watson knew that his educational background would not suffice. “One of the first things I did was to get onboard a fishing ship to learn the process, to fish,” he recalls. “If we don´t design the solution alongside fishermen, the probabilities of them using it are very low.”

This hands-on experience allowed him to discover challenges that he had not anticipated, like the installation of electronic devices in an environment so full of water. So Watson, who explains his project in layman´s terms, developed a solution in the shape of smart rings called PISCES. These devices are integrated into the fishing gear and emit light using LED technology which illuminates the path which non-target fish can follow to escape the net. In high-stress situations, for example, smaller fish swim up while larger fish swim down. This way, the net captures the more mature fish while the rest escape. The device and the light it emits can be adapted to target, or repel, certain species of fish or in accordance with other specific user needs.

Watson, who has been recognized as one of MIT Technology Review, Spanish edition´s Innovators Under 35 Europe 2017 and received the James Dyson award in 2012, aims to sustainably conserve and exploit the sea´s valuable resources. His company has already performed trials in the North Sea and affirms that this technology reduces the capture of non-target fish by up to 60%. The next step is to produce a commercial version of the product. “We have produced scientific tools up to this point. We have learned a lot, but actually our next step is to produce our first commercial product for fishermen,” he explains.

His advice for someone who wanted to follow a similar path? In Watson´s view, “the most important thing is to ask; ask about whatever you need to know. Take a risk. Ask, and be humble; people will help you if they can.”

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