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Sustainable fishing 'SafetyNet' catches big prize

This year's James Dyson Award for design goes to an innovative commercial fishing net system that could make the practice far more sustainable by saving millions of fish annual.

Don't worry little ones, you can make it.
Dan Watson

Imagine yourself as a little fish swimming far below the surface of the sea, just trying to make it in a big blue world. Suddenly, a horizon-encompassing net grabs you and takes you away from everything you once knew. Things go from bad to worse as the commercial fishing net rises and the pressure change kills you.

This fate, which often befalls millions of smaller non-target fish around the world every year, could change with the invention of the sustainable SafetyNet, which today was named winner of the prestigious 2012 James Dyson Award for design.

The design, by Royal College of Art graduate Dan Watson, introduces the notion of adding a series of escape holes to a net so smaller fish not being sought by fishermen can pass through easily. The LED escape rings light up to stimulate escape reactions within fish, and can either draw power from a battery or run through built-in turbines.

"Every year, around 27 million tons of fish are thrown back dead because they are too young or the wrong species," Watson said of SafetyNet in a video. "Last year, British fisherman discarded two of every three fish caught, with many of the discarded species also being the most threatened. This practice is unsustainable and has to change."

Aside from saving tiny swimmers, the SafetyNet's escape holes improve on a conventional net design by creating less drag as the net's pulled, thus saving the amount of fuel a boat uses. The system also raises the trawl a meter off the sea floor, saving the precious ecosystem that resides there.

For winning the James Dyson award, Watson snagged a prize of 10,000 pounds ($15,983), with the same amount also going to his university. Read more about the runners-up, which include an affordable prosthetic socket and a self-inflating life jacket that activates when sensing certain reactions in the body.