Different fishing methods have different impacts on the environment, the fish stock, and possibly the quality of the fish that reaches your plate. Federal and state governments strictly regulate the methods available to commercial fishermen as part of their fisheries resource management plans. For example, commercial shrimpers working the waters of the Gulf of Mexico must install turtle excluder devices in their nets to keep marine turtles from becoming unintended bi-catch. Likewise, Northeastern ground fishermen must use an 8” net mesh to keep juvenile fish from being harvested. There are just some of the measures already being taken to achieve the sustainability balance.
The single most important determinant of seafood quality is how the product is handled from the moment it’s caught until it reaches your plate. “Handling” includes the harvesting process and while the fishing method is not necessarily indicative of quality, it can have an impact on how pristine that piece of Cod in your pan is. In general, hook and line caught fish have the lowest probability of being damaged in the harvesting process while net or dredge caught products are susceptible to being crushed as they’re hauled aboard.
Dredge: The dredge is used for collecting bi-valves, such as clams, and scallops that inhabit the sea floor. To collect the shellfish, the dredge has an open ended metal frame where a holding bag, typically made out of metal rings or mesh, is attached. The fishing vessel drags the dredge over the seafloor digging up and collecting the shellfish as it goes along.
Harpoon: Once a prolific way of catching fish, the harpoon is rarely used in commercial fisheries these days, with only a handful of big game fish (Sword, Tuna, Marlin, Shark) being caught by Harpoon. Harpoons can be deployed by hand or shot from a gun.
Gillnet: Gillnets are strings of single, double or triple netting walls intended to remain stationary. As the name implies, fish become entangled in the nets by their gills. Gillnets are deployed vertically near the surface, in mid-water, or on the bottom and have floatation devices on the upper line and weights on the lower line to keep the net in an upright position. There are two types of gillnets employed, the drift net and the set or anchor net. The set or anchor net is the only commercial type employed as drift nets have been banned in international waters because of high associated rates of by-catch.
Hook: Catching fish by hook-and-line has been practiced for centuries. With the hook-and-line method, artificial or natural bait is attached to a hook fixed to the end of a line. This type of harvesting can be separated into four categories: hand line, pole and line, troll line, and longline.
Seine: A seine is a motion net typically used to catch schooling pelagic fish. A netting wall is used to encircle a school of fish, with the top of the net floated and the bottom weighted in order to keep the netting wall in an upright position. The seine has long ropes attached to the ends of the nets, which allow the fisherman to haul and herd the fish. The fishermen use the lines to close off the bottom of the net in order to trap the fish in an inverted, umbrella-shaped enclosure. Either one boat or two boats can be used. Occasionally spotter aircraft are used to direct vessels to developing schools of fish.
Trap and Pot: Trap and Pots are the primary method of catching commercially important species such as crab and lobster. The trap allows the targeted species to enter voluntarily, but is designed to make it impossible to escape. Generally bait, either natural or artificial, is used to lure the species in.
Trawl: Trawling is one of the most important and efficient fishing methods used today. A trawl is employed from the surface down to great depths depending on the target species. The trawl is dragged by a boat or trawler, and consists of a cone-shaped net with a wide mouth that tappers into a narrow end where the fish collect. Pelagic trawls, Demersal Otter trawls, and Beam trawls are are variations of trawls used.