The UN FAO estimates that between 8-25% of the total global fisheries catch is discarded because it’s unwanted, or quotas have been reached...

That’s up to 27 million tonnes each year, although it’s hard to give exact figures as it’s a delicate issue and most discarding is done far out to sea. Oceana, a global NGO, estimates the cost of discarded fish to be around $1 billion per year.

The European Union recently passed a discard ban, which means that it will likely be even harder now to get accurate figures as fishing crews hide their discards. 

Many current fish methods are unsustainable and is leading to many species being heavily overfished and many more under threat. Set that against the challenge of feeding our growing global population and you see the problem.

This is a big technical challenge for the fishing industry and there is much debate amongst regulators as to how these problems can be addressed. But regulation is a very slow route to change. In the meantime, we need new technologies to reduce unwanted, illegal catches, and a new market has opened up in the field of innovative, cost-effective solutions.

Currently there are many cheap technologies that address overfishing issues, but they either aren’t being exploited or aren’t user-friendly. So, here at SNTech we decided to approach the fishing industry like Apple did the music industry: make use of robust technologies and put users at the heart of the design. Our co-design process ensures that we develop market-appropriate products with fishermen and fisheries scientists that are likely to be used. 

We draw on prototyping methods and technologies used by global maker communities in an iterative design process.

We take robust, inexpensive and smart electronic prototypes into the fish capture process so that we can get feedback quickly. 

Traditional fisheries research often uses crude, largely uncommercialisable techniques to reach conclusions. We use these conclusions as the basis for our simpler solutions that can be commercialised.

What resulted is the SafetyNet – a new trawl net that reduces by-catch and discards, reduces damage to the seabed, and is more efficient. And it’s designed to fit onto existing equipment, to minimise any additional costs. 

Getting involved with the industry hasn’t been easy and it’s taken years of effort to convince the right people that what started as a university project was worth backing, especially one by a Royal College of Art student!

However, each new SafetyNet ally has brought further credibility and slowly but surely a multi-disciplinary, supportive network has formed.

Overfishing is a global challenge and it belongs to all of us. The SafetyNet experience has shown us the power and innovation that can be harnessed when organisations look outside their own industries to collaborate on challenges.

The more people that can be galvanised to action through lending their own particular expertise – whether that be in mechanical engineering, business, electronics or understanding fish behaviour – the faster we will be able to create and test innovative solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems.

-Dan Watson is the founder and Lead Designer at SafetyNet Technologies. He also currently leads the design team at the Satellite Applications Catapult, where he works with satellite data and hardware. He studied design and mechanical engineering and enjoys the variety of problems presented by living life as a design engineer and entrepreneur.