New shocking-tech could save 'millions of sharks destroyed every year'

SharkGuard sends out an electrical pulse that repels the animals.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Sharks are in danger from the fishing industry.jpg
Sharks are in danger from the fishing industry.

atese/iStock 

Millions of sharks are killed each year when they're accidentally caught by industrial fishing vessels. Now a new technology may just stop this carnage, according to an article published by Bloomberg on Friday.

It's called a SharkGuard and it's attached to fishing hooks. It emits a three-dimensional electric field that can be sensed by sharks and rays, which repels them.

The technology has already been tested on two longline vessels fishing for bluefin tuna off the south coast of France in July and August 2021,. The results were nothing short of impressive: blue shark accidental catches fell by 91.3 percent while those of stingrays fell by 71.3 percent, according to a peer-reviewed paper published last week in the journal Current Biology.

It is currently estimated that more than 100 million sharks are killed annually by commercial fisheries, an alarming number that could destabilize oceanic ecosystems.

"I see this as being potentially a game-changer," Rachel Graham, a marine scientist and a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Shark Specialist Group, told Bloomberg. "The use of these instruments will be very helpful for companies to be able to label their tuna or their other target species as being 'shark safe,' like they do with dolphin-safe tuna."

New shocking-tech could save 'millions of sharks destroyed every year'
Sharks are accidentally caught in fishing hooks

Meanwhile, Robert Enever, head of science at Fishtek, the company behind SharkGuard, and a co-author of the paper, told Bloomberg that the new technology might be part of a company's future ESG plans.

These firms might declare, "'We're going to require that when we buy tuna, you don't kill sharks,'" Enever said. "You have this technology that can reduce the millions of sharks destroyed every year."

And SharkGuard is not the only product of its kind out there. Sara Mirabilio, a fisheries specialist at North Carolina Sea Grant, told Bloomberg she tried another prototype in 2021, resulting in the accidental catching of nine shark species falling more than 50 percent.

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Using the technology as a deterrent

"I absolutely believe we can harness this electro-sensory capability of sharks and use it as a deterrent," said Mirabilio.

"Somebody is going to come up with a retail-ready device soon. It'll just be a matter of fishermen's willingness to use it."

The SharkGuard capsule, however, is not yet commercially available due to some severe limitations. Its battery must be changed after 65 hours, which would not be practical or possible for fishing vessels.

A longer battery life

Fishtek is looking into a solution that would see the induction of a charging system that would be built into the bins that store longline hooks allowing a new charging cup to be deployed every time the hooks are.

Jake Hanft, program manager for Schmidt Marine Technology Partners, the company funding the new solution, says the product is ideal for marine life. 

"It's an elegant and productive way to keep sharks and rays off longlines without disrupting the fishing of target catch, reducing bycatch by incredibly impressive rates," he said.

Currently, it is estimated that a SharkGuard system for 2,000 hooks would cost about $20,000 and last three to five years.