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Developing smart nets to save marine life

Christopher Lue Sang and Peter Hauser, part of the winning Smart Nets team of Capgemini’s Tech4Positive Futures competition 2023, explain how their team’s project involves enhancing illuminated fishing net technology to help protect marine species

Each year, 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die after becoming entangled in fishing nets. These are just some of the marine life species impacted by the phenomenon known as “bycatch”.

“Bycatch is the unintended capture of marine life during fishing operations, and it is decimating our ocean ecology,” says Christopher Lue Sang, an electrical engineer at Synapse Product Development, part of Capgemini Invent”.

Around 7.3 million tonnes of bycatch are caught every year, contributing to the shocking reality that 40% of what is caught in the ocean is discarded.

“Aside from the huge impact on marine life, small-scale fishermen waste time removing bycatch from their nets, while larger fisheries feel the impact on profit margins. Everyone – particularly regulatory bodies and conservationists – wants a solution to this global problem.”

The Smart Nets prototype

Christopher’s interest in finding a solution to this problem began while studying for a master’s degree in electrical engineering at Arizona State University (ASU). While there, he got involved with a research project that was looking at the problem of bycatch. One proposal was to explore the potential for attaching solar-powered light buoys to fisher’s nets. Over time, this initial work has been built on to become the Smart Nets Project.

Smart Nets work because some marine species are known to avoid certain types of light, and studies have shown that net illumination decreases bycatch by 63%. Other commercial technologies, such as acoustic “pingers” and glow sticks, already exist. However, solutions can be expensive, difficult to implement, and are not powered by renewable energy – they use energy inefficiently, and may end up as waste in the ocean. 

Taking up the challenge with Capgemini

Christopher’s work at ASU resulted in a small quantity of basic Smart Nets being produced, but when tested many got sent back with issues such as leaking. The team at ASU knew that there was a limit to how much could be achieved by a small group of people at a university. To solve a global problem like bycatch would require collaborations with many other organizations.

That’s where Capgemini joins the story. The project gained renewed momentum when Christopher started work as an intern at Synapse Product Development, part of Capgemini Invent. There, he came across Capgemini’s Tech4Positive Futures challenge – an internal competition that encourages employees to apply their skills to make a positive impact on people, the planet and society.

“I realized that Smart Nets was a great fit for the competition,” says Christopher. “My colleagues quickly got behind the idea and, to my delight, we were one of the three winners in 2023.”

One of those colleagues was Peter Hauser, the head of the New Product Introduction (NPI) team in San Francisco. “Christopher reached out to me, and we started chatting about the project,” says Peter.

“I loved the concept. I loved the idea that we could reduce bycatch through an innovative piece of hardware. What Christopher needed was help in scaling up the project – a challenge that was right in my wheelhouse.

“We soon became a relatively big team, with people from the mechanical side working on iterations of the product to make sure it is the best design. Then there’s the software required, and project management. For a project such as this, lots of different disciplines need to come together.

“I think everyone has really enjoyed it and we’re now starting to see the payoff – we’ll start putting Smart Nets into fisheries this summer.”

Manufacturing at a bigger scale

At the moment, the Smart Nets team will distribute the product, but if the Smart Nets Project is really to succeed, it will need to be more widely available.

“I saw an opportunity to use open sourcing as a method for distribution,” Peter says, “and to produce Smart Nets as a kit with instructions. Doing that enables people from different markets to purchase the components from online stores and local distributors and to build it in-house, with minimal tools.”

Christopher picks up the theme: “For this technology to have a lasting, positive impact on marine life, the units need to be quick and cheap to produce, and at a much larger scale,” he says. “By keeping Smart Nets cheap, easy to assemble, and simple to use, Capgemini is putting this transformational technology in the hands of people, regardless of their geographic location or socio-economic status.”

For the initial rollout, a team from ASU will put Smart Nets into service in field studies in key fisheries in the Gulf of California and in North Carolina. Beyond this, Christopher and the Synapse team intend to support ASU and the Smart Nets Project through 2025.

The team hopes to create an entire category of net illumination options that can be tailored to specific needs and environments through this open-source project.

Preserving ocean life

With the backing of Capgemini through the Tech4Positive Futures program, the entire Smart Nets team at Synapse is proud to be taking bycatch reduction through net illumination to the next level.

“Our goal is to boost biodiversity and conservation efforts by reducing millions of tonnes of bycatch, saving hundreds of thousands of protected and endangered marine creatures in the process,” says Christopher. “We want to preserve our ocean life – for ourselves and the next generation. Ultimately, bycatch is a global problem and it’s going to require a global solution.”


Through Tech4Positive Futures, Capgemini applies innovation and technology to solve some of the most pressing planetary and societal challenges in the areas of skilling, health, and well-being, and climate-related sustainability. We do this by bringing financial support and leadership commitment together with the pro-bono technology and consulting services of our volunteering colleagues. This is delivered in collaboration with our ecosystem of partners, creating impact at scale.

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