Fishing Gear Types

Prawn Traps Credit: Lana Gunnlaugson

How fish are caught

When evaluating the sustainability of any seafood, one of the key considerations is the ecological impact associated with the fishing gear used to capture a species. The same species, caught using different gears may have very different environmental consequences. There are many types of fishing gear and they all impact the marine environment (marine life and habitat) in different ways and to different degrees.

This is why the same species may have different rankings depending to the gear that was used to catch it. For example, tuna caught using surface or pelagic longlines often appears as a yellow or red choice because these fishing methods result in high volumes of bycatch and the death of marine birds, marine mammals and sea turtles. The same species of tuna caught using troll lines is a green choice because this fishing method has a significantly smaller bycatch.

Fishing gears can be divided into five main categories. The first three are most commonly used in Canada:

  • Nets (including trawl nets and dredges);
  • Hook and line;
  • Traps;
  • Grappling devices; and
  • Stupefying devices.

Of these gear types, trawls, nets and hook and line are the most commonly used.

Nets Nets come in many sizes and shapes; some are used passively (fixed, allowing fish to swim into them), while others are used actively (mobile, dragged through the water). Common types of nets include trawl nets, dredges, beach seines, purse seines, gillnets, trammel nets, lift nets and cast nets.

Trawls are towed nets that usually consist of a frame with a net bag attached that is pulled from a boat to collect fish and other marine life. Most trawls are dragged along ocean bottoms, but may also be used in mid-water to capture certain species. Bottom trawls can do considerable damage to the ocean floor and fragile marine life. All trawls, but particularly bottom trawls, tend to capture large amounts of non target species.

Dredges are shovel-like iron frames with fine nets attached. They are used to collect animals living at, or attached to the bottom of the sea. Dredges are commonly used in the scallop fishery.

Hook and Line This gear is probably what is most typically associated with fishing. Hook and lines come in many different forms that include handlines, poles, longlines and trolling lines. The hooks are often baited. Longlining or the setting of long lines of baited gear is one of the most widely used forms of hook fishing. There are two types of longlining: pelagic/surface longlining and demersal/bottom longlining. Pelagic longlines are set to catch swordfish, tunas and other surface swimming fishes. This type of fishing often kills species which are endangered and/or of no commercial interest such as sharks, turtles and seabirds.

Traps Traps are enclosed spaces used to capture fish or invertebrates. Traps are usually used passively and may be baited to encourage the desirable species to enter. Common examples of traps include pots, stow or bag nets and fixed traps.

Grappling Devices These are gears that are usually hand-held and used to target individual fish or mammals. Grappling devices include harpoons, spears, and arrows. Grappling gears have little bycatch and are used rarely in commercial fisheries.

Stupefying Devices Stupefying devices stun fish using explosives or chemicals (e.g., dynamite or cyanide). There are no commercial fisheries in Canada using these capture techniques. The Food and Agriculture Organization’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (Paragraph 8.4.2) specifically calls for the prohibition of “dynamiting, poisoning and other comparable destructive fishing practices.”

How we Fish Matters: Addressing the Ecological Impacts of Canadian Fishing Gear

How We Fish Matters is a comprehensive analysis of the severity of habitat impacts and discarded bycatch resulting from major commercial fishing gears used in Canada. Please visit the How we Fish Matters website to read the full report, and find other useful information about Canadian fisheries.