Invention: Fishing hook cover to save seabirds
British brothers Ben and Pete Kibel have created an innovative pod that can prevent commercial longline fishing from killing thousands of seabirds. The Hookpod encapsulates baited hooks until they sink to a depth inaccessible to birds and has been shown to reduce deaths by 95% without affecting catch rates.
An estimated 300 000 seabirds, including some 100 000 albatrosses, die each year when they become ensnared in the baited hooks used in longline fishing. Commercial operators trail fishing lines tens of kilometres long with thousands of hooks, representing a fatal hazard to the seabirds that dive for the bait. This is a significant environmental concern as many of the seabirds, including the majority of the 22 albatross species, are already listed as vulnerable, threatened or endangered.
From an early age, the wildlife documentaries of Sir David Attenborough provided the Kibel brothers with an awareness of the devastating impact of human activity on the natural world. Engineer Ben and marine biologist Pete resolved to find a solution to the problem of bycatch and pooled their expertise to invent a simple device to cover baited hooks until the line is submerged safely underwater. The Hookpod is a clear polycarbonate capsule which is placed over the point and barb of the fishing hook. As the Hookpod begins to sink, the water pressure around it increases until it pushes a piston inwards into the device. Once the device reaches a depth of 20 metres - inaccessible to most seabirds - the movement of the piston causes the device to unlock and release the hook. One trial showed that longline fishing operators caused just one seabird death per 25 000 hooks when using the technology, a 95% reduction in bycatch.
The brothers have been exploring practical ways to tackle the negative consequences of fishing for two decades, founding their first company, Fishtek Ltd., in 1998 as a side business. In 2013, they created Hookpod Ltd. to promote and commercialise the device. They were granted a European patent for the technology in 2016, and this helped to attract investment and to protect the device from poor-quality imitations which might damage the reputation of the original invention.
Commercial fishing operators have tried several methods to deter seabirds, including using extra weights to speed up the sinking of lines. The Hookpod has been recognised as the world's first stand-alone method of reducing accidental seabird deaths, first in 2018 by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) and again in 2020 by the New Zealand Government. In July 2020, Hookpod announced that vessels using the patented device in New Zealand waters had recorded zero bycatch in the first half of the year. Childhood hero Sir David Attenborough has also endorsed the product, stating that if every longline fishing fleet used the brothers' invention, "We can stop the accidental death of these magnificent ocean wanderers".
Fishing hook cover to save seabirds