If you love all things seafood, then you’re definitely not alone. It’s probably why you found our blog, and we are so happy to have you. But now that we have your attention it’s time for some real talk.
Since there are so many of us seafood lovers out there, the demand is high for fresh fish. One major issue with this high seafood consumption is the variety of fishing methods used to keep up. Catching fish on a large scale can leave ocean habitats with devastating damage. Let’s take a look at these methods and their effects on marine life and their home.
Gillnetting: Fishermen situate these nets vertically in the water. They can rest on the seafloor or be suspended in the water between floaters and anchors. Some types, like driftnets, float on the surface of the water. The size of the holes in the netting determines which species are caught, resulting in a large amount of bycatch. Bycatch are species that are not targeted but are caught nevertheless. They can range from sea turtles to less desirable but still completely edible fish species. Use of this fishing method runs the risk of losing or abandoning the net, which leaves it to float freely and ensnare more wildlife.
Jig: This fishing method relies on a hook called a jig. To catch the fish, the jig is jerked horizontally through the water. Fishing with this method typically occurs at night and targets only one species of fish.
Longlining: Long lines can be up to 50 miles long and they catch fish by hooks spaced out along the line. Longlines can be set at the surface or along the sea floor depending on which species are being targeted. Longline fishing typically results in a lot of bycatch and can harm turtles, birds, and sharks.
Midwater Trawl: Cone-shaped nets are dragged in the water behind a fishing vessel. According to Seafood Watch, “Large industrial ships pull gigantic nets through the open ocean and can catch an entire school of fish—spanning the size of five football fields—at once.” These nets can be set in the midwater zone or along the seafloor, with the latter resulting in damage to the seafloor and its marine habitats.
Bottom Trawling: This method uses a net that is drawn across the seafloor. This video illustrates how it is done:
Purse Seining: This method relies on nets that are held up by buoys and weighted down by anchors. They can be deployed from a boat or used by hand at the shoreline. The purse variety can be cinched at the bottom by pulling a line through rings along the edge of the net. Depending on the targeted species and how close together they travel, there are varying levels of bycatch produced by this method.
Traps and Pots: These are cages made out of metal or wood into which wildlife are attracted with bait. They rest along the ocean floor and the wildlife are held there alive until retrieved by fishermen.
Trolling: This method uses long lines baited with lures and towed slowly by a vessel. Because fishermen reel in the lines soon after the fish takes bait, there is less bycatch.
Harpooning: Harpoons are used to capture larger fish floating near the surface. This method is very selective and doesn’t produce any by catch, making it a more sustainable practice.
So, the question on all of our minds is what do we do now? A solid first step is to figure out which species of fish are gathered in an environmentally friendly method. Search for your favorites online and learn about their origins. An especially user-friendly tool is Monterey Bay’s Seafood Watch app. Or, when in doubt, talk to your fishmonger. Any questions you have can likely be answered by the person behind the seafood counter at your local grocery store.