Bainbridge company perfects net that keeps sharks at bay

Farmers know of the threats posed to crops and livestock from predators and pests. But what are they to do when the problem is a school of hungry sharks?

NET Systems, Inc., headquartered on Bainbridge Island, manufactures nets for the growing aquaculture industry around the world.

For those worried that a strong set of jaws may take a bite out of their business, the company has found that the answer may not be a bigger boat, but a better net.

Called PREDATOR-X, the company’s newest netting can withstand attacks by sharks looking to get a taste of farm-grown fish.

“Our netting is nice and soft and easy to work with,” said Koji Tamura. “It’s a hybrid of fencing material and netting material. It’s lighter weight and flexible.”

“It was developed primarily for off-shore aquaculture cages that face shark attacks, but it can be used for anything in the industry,” Tamura added.

NET Systems began hearing complaints from aquaculture facilities in Hawaii and the Bahamas that sharks were too easily getting into fish cages.

The firm began approximately three years of study and design to develop a product that would keep sharks from devouring fish crops.

“The biting of sharks is a little bit different,” Tamura said. “They bite and do a sawing motion that cuts the fiber, so we had to do something totally different than before.”

NET Systems first had to test shark bites on their nets, but ran into a problem when they discovered that there were no such tests that would work at that time. The company received assistance from the University of South Florida and the DSM company in Holland.

Using bull shark teeth, they tested different materials.

DSM’s Dyneema fiber, combined with stainless steel, would prove to be the solution. Dyneema fiber is light-weight, yet extremely strong.

But the company wasn’t finished testing. They brought nets to the Bahamas to see if sharks could damage them.

A test cage was built and bait was attached to the netting to tempt the sharks.

“It was kind of tough because there were six-foot sharks,” Tamura said. “We would go down in teams and bring the bait with us, so that was kind of scary.”

The netting survived. It is already being used at facilities around the world, including the underwater station at the Cape Eleuthera Institute in the Bahamas.

In February, when the company brought the new netting to the Aquaculture America 2012 conference in Las Vegas, it generated interest from a wide range of businesses beyond fish farming, Tamura said.

NET Systems is headquartered on Day Road on Bainbridge Island, where it manufactures the nets and other equipment, mainly fishing gear.

“We distribute to everywhere in the world from here,” Tamura said. “It’s made in the USA, on Bainbridge Island.”

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