Longline fishing of large species such as tuna and swordfish currently results in the deaths of around 300,000 seabirds each year, including vulnerable species such as albatrosses. This bycatch is caused by the birds diving for the bait on these longlines before they sink below the ocean’s surface. Hookpod, developed by brothers Ben and Pete Kibel, is a small, reusable device that surrounds the hook until it sinks to a certain depth, preventing seabirds from getting trapped on the lines.
Ben, an engineer, and Pete, a fisheries biologist, have established three SMEs to market Hookpod and their other inventions that reduce bycatch in global fisheries. Key to Hookpad’s success is its relative simplicity, according to Pete.
“It would have been easy to develop a sophisticated electronic depth-related system, but that would never have been operationally viable,” he said. “The design challenge we faced was in making something that is bulletproof in harsh environments and can be mass produced for just a few dollars.”
Hookpod is a clear, polycarbonate capsule that is clipped over the points and barbs of longline fishing hooks. Near the surface, this prevents scavenging seabirds from getting caught on the hooks by physically blocking their access to them. At the core of the device is a pressure-operated mechanism that consists of a watertight tube containing a piston and a small quantity of trapped air.
Once the hook sinks to 20 metres below the surface, the force generated by the water pressure on the end of the piston becomes greater than the force acting in the opposite direction, driving the piston inwards. The piston continues to move until it releases a latch, which opens the device and releases the baited hook. When the fishing session is complete, fishermen can clip the Hookpod shut for subsequent use.
Research published in 2017 compiling the results of 18 sea trials found that one seabird death occurred per 25,000 hooks using a Hookpod, compared with one per 1,250 hooks without the device. No difference was found in target catch rates.
"The Kibel brothers have combined ingenuity with their commitment to the environment to develop a solution that protects vulnerable marine life," said António Campinos, president of the European Patent Office (EPO), which runs the awards.
"As SME founders they also set an example to new businesses – their patent strategy has enabled them to protect their intellectual property, scale-up production and develop new products."
Ben and Pete Kibel filed a European patent application for the Hookpod in 2012 which was granted in 2016. The winners of the 2021 edition of the EPO's annual innovation prize will be announced on June 17, 2021.