The Ins And Outs Of Gillnet Fishing: Explained

Gillnet fishing is a method commonly used by fishermen to catch fish. But what exactly is gillnet fishing? In simple terms, it involves setting up a net in the water that fish swim into, entangling them by their gills and preventing their escape. This method has been utilized for centuries as a way to efficiently catch large quantities of fish. However, despite its effectiveness, gillnet fishing has become a topic of concern due to its impact on marine ecosystems and non-target species. In this article, we will explore the intricacies of gillnet fishing, its advantages, and the challenges it poses to sustainable fishing practices. Let’s dive in!

The Ins and Outs of Gillnet Fishing: Explained

What is Gillnet Fishing?

Gillnet fishing is a method of fishing that involves using a net with small mesh sizes to catch fish. This type of fishing gear is commonly used in both commercial and recreational fishing around the world. The net is typically set vertically in the water, allowing fish to become entangled by their gills as they swim into the net. Gillnets can be set at different depths and locations depending on the target species and fishing regulations.

The Mechanics of Gillnet Fishing

When a gillnet is deployed, it creates a barrier in the water that fish can swim into. The net is designed to be nearly invisible, making it difficult for fish to detect and avoid. As fish swim into the net, their gills become entangled in the mesh. This effectively immobilizes the fish, making it easier for fishermen to retrieve their catch.

Gillnet Design

Gillnets are typically made of strong, fine-meshed material such as nylon. The mesh size of the net can vary depending on the target species. Smaller mesh sizes are used to catch smaller fish, while larger mesh sizes are used for larger species. The size and shape of the net also vary depending on the fishing location and target species. Some gillnets are designed to be set on the ocean floor, while others are suspended in the water column.

Setting and Retrieving Gillnets

To set a gillnet, fishermen typically use boats or other watercraft to position the net in the desired location. The net is secured at both ends and allowed to drift or remain stationary in the water for a certain period of time. The duration of the set can vary from a few hours to several days, depending on factors such as fishing regulations and fish behavior.

After the set period, fishermen retrieve the net by pulling it out of the water. This is usually done manually, but in some cases, mechanical devices may be used to assist in the retrieval process. The caught fish are then removed from the net, and the net is prepared for the next set.

Types of Gillnet Fishing

There are several variations of gillnet fishing, each with its own unique characteristics and applications. Let’s explore some of the most common types:

Drift Gillnet Fishing

Drift gillnet fishing involves setting nets that are allowed to drift with the currents or tides. This method is commonly used in marine environments such as oceans and large lakes. Fishermen often target species like salmon, herring, and tuna using this technique. The nets are set in a way that allows fish to swim into them as they migrate or feed.

Set Gillnet Fishing

Set gillnet fishing is a stationary method where the nets are anchored or fixed in a particular location. This technique is used in both freshwater and marine environments. Fishermen may set gillnets near river mouths, in bays, or along coastlines to target species that congregate in these areas. It is a common method employed to catch fish like cod, flounder, and trout.

Beach Seine Gillnet Fishing

Beach seine gillnet fishing is a combination of gillnet and seine fishing methods. It involves setting gillnets along the shoreline and connecting them with a seine net. The seine net is then used to encircle and trap fish within the gillnets. This technique is often used in coastal areas where fish populations move close to the shore. It is particularly effective for catching species such as mullet, sardines, and pompano.

Drift-Set Gillnet Fishing

Drift-set gillnet fishing is a hybrid method that combines elements of drift and set gillnet fishing. It involves setting the nets in a fixed location initially and then allowing them to drift with the tidal or water flow. This technique is commonly used in estuaries, where fish migrate between saltwater and freshwater environments. It is often employed to catch species such as shad, salmon, and striped bass.

Advantages of Gillnet Fishing

Gillnet fishing offers several advantages that make it a popular choice among fishermen. Here are some of the key benefits:


Gillnets can be highly efficient in catching fish. The entangling mechanism of the nets means that fish are less likely to escape once they swim into the mesh. This makes gillnets particularly effective for targeting specific species or sizes of fish.

Selective Fishing

Gillnets can be designed with specific mesh sizes to target desired species and avoid catching undersized or non-target fish. By using appropriate mesh sizes, fishermen can help preserve fish populations and reduce bycatch.


Compared to other fishing methods, gillnet fishing can be relatively cost-effective. The gear itself is relatively simple and affordable, and the operation requires fewer resources compared to techniques such as trawling or longlining.

Minimal Environmental Impact

When used responsibly and in accordance with fishing regulations, gillnet fishing can have minimal impact on the marine environment. The gear does not disturb the seafloor, reducing the potential for habitat damage.

Concerns and Challenges of Gillnet Fishing

While gillnet fishing offers several advantages, there are also concerns and challenges associated with its use. It is important to address these factors to ensure sustainable fishing practices. Below are some of the key concerns:


Gillnet fishing, if not carefully managed, can result in significant bycatch. Bycatch refers to unintentionally caught species that are not the target of the fishing operation. This can include undersized fish, endangered species, or non-targeted species. Proper mesh size selection and adherence to fishing regulations can help minimize bycatch.

Gear Entanglement

Gillnets can entangle not only fish but also other marine organisms such as dolphins, turtles, and seabirds. Accidental entanglement can cause injuries or fatalities to these animals, leading to concerns for their conservation. Proper fishing practices and the use of modified gear can reduce the risk of entanglement.

Overfishing and Depletion

Unregulated or unsustainable gillnet fishing can contribute to overfishing and depletion of fish populations. It is crucial to manage fishing efforts, including setting appropriate catch limits and implementing fishing closures, to avoid depleting fish stocks and disrupting the balance of ecosystems.

Ghost Fishing

“Ghost fishing” refers to the phenomenon where lost, abandoned, or discarded fishing gear continues to catch fish. Gillnets that become lost or abandoned in the water can continue to entangle and catch fish, leading to unnecessary mortality. Responsible waste management and gear retrieval programs are essential to mitigate the impact of ghost fishing.

The Future of Gillnet Fishing

As concerns over sustainability and the impact of fishing on marine ecosystems continue to grow, the future of gillnet fishing may see changes and adaptations. Efforts are being made to develop more selective fishing gear with escape mechanisms for non-targeted species. Additionally, technological advancements in fishing gear and practices, such as the use of acoustic devices to deter marine mammals, may help reduce bycatch and minimize environmental impact.

Gillnet fishing is a widely practiced method that has its advantages and challenges. When used responsibly and in accordance with fishing regulations, it can be an efficient and selective way to catch fish. However, proper management and mitigation of concerns such as bycatch and gear entanglement are crucial for the long-term sustainability of gillnet fishing. With continued research and innovation, it is possible to strike a balance between fishing and conservation, ensuring the health and productivity of our oceans for future generations.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is gillnet fishing?

Gillnet fishing is a method of fishing that uses a net, known as a gillnet, to trap and catch fish. The net is typically made of fine mesh and is suspended vertically in the water column, allowing fish to swim into it but preventing them from escaping. Gillnets are typically set in a specific location, such as a river, lake, or ocean, and are left for a period of time to catch fish that pass through the area. This method can be used for both commercial and recreational purposes.

How does gillnet fishing work?

Gillnet fishing involves setting a net in a body of water at a desired depth. The net is held in place with floats at the top and weights at the bottom to keep it vertical. Fish swim into the net and become entangled in the mesh, preventing their escape. This method takes advantage of the fish’s natural swimming behavior, as they tend to move along specific paths. Fishermen periodically check their gillnets and remove any caught fish.

What types of fish are commonly caught using gillnets?

Gillnets are versatile and can target various types of fish depending on the location and target species. Commonly caught fish include salmon, trout, bass, cod, herring, and many others. The size and mesh of the gillnet can be adjusted to target specific species, allowing for selective fishing.

What are the advantages of gillnet fishing?

Gillnet fishing offers several advantages. It is a relatively cost-effective fishing method that requires less equipment and manpower compared to other methods. It also allows for selective fishing, as the mesh size can be customized to capture specific fish species. Additionally, gillnets can be set in specific areas where targeted fish are known to migrate, increasing the chances of a successful catch.

What are the environmental concerns associated with gillnet fishing?

Gillnet fishing can have negative impacts on the environment. One concern is bycatch, which refers to the unintentional capture of non-targeted species, including endangered or protected marine animals. The entanglement of marine mammals, turtles, and seabirds in gillnets can cause injury or death. There can also be habitat damage if the nets come into contact with sensitive areas such as coral reefs or seafloor habitats.

Are there regulations in place for gillnet fishing?

Yes, gillnet fishing is regulated in many countries to address environmental concerns and promote sustainable fishing practices. Regulations may include restrictions on mesh size, fishing seasons, and areas where gillnets can be used. These measures aim to minimize bycatch, protect endangered species, and ensure the long-term viability of fish populations.

Final Thoughts

Gillnet fishing is a widely used method that involves the use of nets to catch fish. It is a passive fishing technique where fish swim into the net and get entangled in its mesh. Despite being an efficient method for catching certain species, gillnets have been associated with several negative impacts on marine ecosystems. Bycatch of non-target species, including endangered ones, often occurs, leading to significant ecological consequences. Furthermore, gillnets contribute to marine debris and pose a threat to marine mammals, turtles, and birds. In order to ensure sustainable fishing practices, it is crucial to regulate and monitor gillnet fishing activities effectively.

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