FISHTEK delivers net gains for fisheries and the oceans’ wildlife

Fishtek's pinger prevents sea life slaughter (Image: Greenhouse)

Sharks, turtles, seabirds and fishing firms will be the first in line to benefit as conservation products company Fishtek Marine nears closing a £900,000 crowdfunding round through ethical specialist Triodos Bank.

The investment will speed up product development by the UK designer and manufacturer whose deterrent technology for the global fishing industry tackles the unintended slaughter of the oceans’ wildlife, known as bycatch. This, the accidental death or capture and eventual discard of species by fleets, now involves some 300,000 dolphins, porpoises and whales, 300,000 seabirds and 250,000 turtles every year which become fatally entangled in gear.

“The toll is tragic, but our technology is to be used with equipment and stops damage to it, so it’s in the interests of the industry as well as the environment,” says fisheries biologist Pete Kibel who with his engineer brother Ben founded the Devon-based company in 2016.

Now selling to fisheries and distributors in 40 countries, it saw 290 percent growth last year on £317,000 of sales and has a target of £1.5 million by 2021.

Its ranges include a cost-effective and easy-to-use battery powered pinger that sends out warnings sounds about gear to harbour porpoises, dolphins and whales and reduces damage to lines and boats by up to 95 percent.

A staggering 700 million (7,000 tonnes) of these plastic baits are discarded every year at sea to be swallowed by marine birds and turtles or end up as beach litter.

After passing its minimum £400,000 raise last autumn Fishtek decided to extend it to £900,000, with much of it being invested in state-of-the art tooling and production equipment and extensive trials worldwide.

Priority among the new products is the Shark Guard, an electrical pulse device that sits just above the baited hooks on long lines. While deterring sharks, especially sensitive to the signals, the guards allow target fish to be caught.

The precipitous decline in shark numbers is one of marine conservation’s biggest issues and tests so far with Fishtek’s innovation have shown to save over 90 percent of the species’ bycatch.

The Guard appeals to fisheries looking to avoid this because of tighter regulations and gain sustainable practice accreditation from top watchdog the Marine Stewardship Council whose kite mark food labelling plays increasingly well with consumers. 

Following trials with fisheries in the Mediterranean and Australia Fishtek’s product could go on sale next year.

Hot on the heels of this is its net light, which is being developed with Exeter University, that attaches to gill nets. “This is a huge global market, reduces turtle and seabird bycatch and again increases target fish numbers,” adds Ben.

Other products in the pipeline include a guard deterring Orca (killer) whales and a ropeless fishing device for lobster pots.

This uses acoustic GPS technology to release the buoys holding them, making retrieval easier while preventing larger fish from getting entangled, currently a cause of serious damage and a  threat to livelihoods. 

The brothers’ strong skills mix, they say, enabled Fishtek to pioneer solutions with a handful of staff at a time when the public were interested. 

Now the tides of plastic waste and devastation charted by TV series Blue Planet have opened eyes.  

Rory Crawford of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds praised Fishtek’s work saying it had been a great collaborator in the fight to eliminate bycatch in fisheries, one of the biggest threats facing seabirds.

“Their work has been innovative yet savvy to the everyday practicalities of fishing whether it’s been well-established best practice or genuine innovation, we’ve found them to be brilliant partners.”

“Our products have to incentivise fisheries to switch,” adds Pete, “but this gives us a chance to create a sea change in the industry and help save our oceans for future generations.”