Sink or swim attitude helps Challenger students preserve fish stocks



Most students are aware that achieving success can be a case of sink or swim. But a class of Challenger Institute of Technology students have concluded that sometimes the best option is to sink and swim.

As part of a valuable collaborative effort with the fishing industry, students at Challenger’s WA Maritime Training Centre in Fremantle have been manufacturing and assisting with the design elements of an innovative new device that is protecting undersized fish.

The Fishute is a simple but ingenious funnel-shaped device that allows fishermen to return small and unwanted fish catches to the water alive and safe from predation by seabirds. Typically, professional fishermen have released undersized catches in a bid to protect fish stocks, only to watch on as pelicans and other birds have preyed upon the vulnerable released fish before they have had the chance to descend and escape.

Designed by South Coast Estuarine Fishery and SeaNet, the Fishute is simple and practical. Its top funnel entrance is wide enough to accommodate larger species and then tapers to a smaller exit. The mesh is fine enough to conceal fish from attentive seabirds, whilst remaining permeable. Fish are able to travel down the chute and below the waterline, where they are protected by the mesh, which is weighted with a lead rope extending about 30cm below the surface. The fish dropped in the chute are given refuge as they reorient themselves and swim downwards and away from preying birds.

Decoy pelican eyes on the chute also serve to deter approaching birds. Recent trials have shown that 99 percent of fish released avoided becoming bird food.

Challenger’s fishing and marine studies students have assisted in the production of the Fishute as part of their sustainability studies.

“From a maritime and fishing position, it’s about our interaction with industry, determining change management for the industry, and teaching about how to help with the future sustainability of fish stock,” said lecturer Sherrell Crisp.

Situated in the heart of Western Australia’s major port, the WA Maritime Training Centre provides a range of maritime-related courses. The Centre consists of extensive training facilities, including simulators, a fleet of 8 vessels, engineering, seamanship and aquaculture workshops, biological and computing laboratories, and the Australian Centre for Applied Aquaculture Research where applied research is undertaken.