How do gear methods work?

Allison Hepworth - August 3, 2020

How was this fish caught? This is an important question you should be asking anytime you eat seafood. Some gear methods can have damaging effects on delicate marine ecosystems and animal populations while others are designed to do the least damage to habitats and to minimize by-catch. Here is a quick explanation of some of the most common fishing methods you may hear about. (Special thanks to our friends at Ecotrust’s ThisFish for the images!)


The chosen gear type of Skipper Otto himself, gillnetting is how most of our salmon is caught. Gillnets lay vertically in the water like a fence, and lead weights at the bottom of the net and floating corks attached to the top of the net keep the net in place. Fish swim into the net and get stuck at the largest part of their body, just behind their gills. They can’t swim all the way through the holes in the net, and their gills prevent them from swimming back, so they stay in place until the fishers bring up the net. 

Each net targets a specific fish, based on the size of the holes. Fish that are too big for a specific net will bounce off and have to go around, while fish that are too small will pass through the nets with no problems. Gillnetting can even discriminate between specific species of salmon. For example, a 5-inch mesh net is good for sockeye salmon in the Nass, as most other species of salmon will not become ensnared when using that mesh size. The mesh size varies depending on the run; anywhere from 4 ½-inch in Barkley Sound up to 5 ⅛-inch in the Skeena. 

This method of fishing allows fishers to catch only the size/type of fish they want to catch, drastically reducing the by-catch that is associated with other types of fishing. The gillnet is laid specifically to intercept the path of migrating salmon, so it is incredibly rare to catch any other species of fish or marine life. Not only is a gillnet set in a specific place with a specific mesh size, but it is also set at the depth that the target species tend to swim at. 

When we’re fishing for one species of salmon, occasionally, we’re not allowed to retain another type (for example, coho or chinook, which, in some areas, might have poor numbers). When this happens, the fish is put into a revival tank where the air is pumped through to ensure the fish is strong and healthy before it gets put back into the ocean. 


Trapping is a fishing method with minimal by-catch or environmental damage. Traps are baited and placed on the seafloor to “soak”, and the target species is lured in to feast on the bait. A lot of fishers have their favourite, highly secret “honey pots” where they like to set their traps!

After a short period, fishers haul the traps back up. The size of the mesh and openings restrict the catch to targeted species which are generally large enough to be kept. When traps are pulled in, the catch is live, allowing for the safe, live-release of unintended bycatch.

Our spot prawns, all shrimp species, octopus, and Dungeness crab are trap-caught.

Butterfly trawl

Joel and Melissa Collier use a butterfly trawl to catch our pink and spiny scallops. In fact, Joel’s family was heavily involved in the development of this fishery in the early 2000s, where one of its founding members invented the butterfly trawl. The large, wide-mouthed net is dragged behind the boat while it travels at very slow speeds and steel runners guide the net above the ocean floor, minimizing sea-floor damage and by-catch (slow speed means most other species can out-swim the net). As the boat passes over the scallop beds, the vibrations from the boat and trawl cause the scallops to swim up. The trawl follows shortly after the boat and captures the swimming scallops.

Read more about how the scallops are harvested and view photos of the entire process.


Trolling is a hook-and-line fishery in which multiple lines are run off trolling polls that reach off the sides of the boat at angles. Each of these lines has several smaller lines with hooks that run off it. Lines are reeled in and fish are hand picked off the hooks before the hooks are re-baited and re-set. Trollers often have freezers onboard and can head out fishing for a month or more at a time, freezing at sea as they go. Trolling is highly selective, as the boat cruises at the same speed as the target species, and hooks of a specific size are suspended in the water column the match the swimming depth of the target species.

Our albacore tuna and a few species of salmon are troll-caught.

Bottom longlining

A few of the species we offer are caught by bottom longline, such as halibut and lingcod. In bottom longlining, a long, weighted line is laid along the sea floor with many baited hooks. After a short soak time, the line is then reeled back onto the boat and fish are hauled onboard. This method of fishing for ground fish is highly selective.

Mid water trawling

Mid-water trawling is a gear method where a cone-shaped net is towed behind the boat in mid-water – not touching the sea bottom and not skimming along the surface. Mid-water trawling has much lower by-catch and environmental damage than bottom trawling, but, other non-targeted species are often caught alongside the target species. In the case of our hake, rockfish are the most common by-catch and, while some rockfish are Ocean Wise recommended, others are not as abundant and extra measures must be taken to protect them. To manage this, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has by-catch quotas and strict monitoring programs in place. Cary and all hake boats must hold quota for each of the by-catch species they might catch and, if they reach their quota limit on any of their by-catch species, they can’t keep fishing. Since the target species is the one they make their biggest income from, fishers are incentivized to fish where they will catch the least by-catch.

To ensure compliance with DFO’s strict regulations, Cary and all hake fishers must have a camera monitoring system running during their fishing trips. This third-party verified footage, along with the records of an independent validator during offloading, records what the crew is catching and provides detailed reporting to the DFO.

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Allison Hepworth - August 3, 2020

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How do gear methods work?

Allison Hepworth - August 3, 2020

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