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Fishing Methods

Fishing has become increasingly technical and more efficient over the years and there are various methods in which fishermen gather their catch. Here’s a quick guide to the main methods of fishing used by the Cornish fleet:

Seining (encircling gears)

Purse seining is the general name given to the method of encircling a school of fish, such as Sardines, on or near the surface with a large wall of net. The net is then drawn together underneath the fish (pursed) so that they’re completely surrounded.

Seine netting is a bottom fishing method that harvests ground fish such as Cod, Haddock, Hake and Plaice. The fish are surrounded by ropes laid out on the seabed with a trawl shaped net. As the ropes are hauled in, the fish are herded into the path of the net and caught. This method of fishing produces a high quality catch as the fish are not bumped along the bottom of the seabed.

Netting (static gears)

Gill nets are walls of netting which may be set at or below the surface, on the seabed, or at any depth in-between. They’re the oldest form of net fishing and have been used for thousands of years. These nets are named gill nets, tangle nets or trammel nets, depending on how they’re constructed and hung. Fish, which attempt to swim through the net are caught if they’re a size large enough to allow the head to pass through the meshes but not the rest of the body. Mesh sizes depend upon the species and size range being targeted.

Drift nets are gill nets which are not fixed in any way, they’re mobile and are allowed to drift with the prevailing currents. They’re used on the high seas to capture a wide range of fish.

Hook and Line (static gears)

Long lines are typically used to catch Swordfish and Tuna. A length of line is set out, which can be up to 100km long, to which short lengths of line carrying baited hooks are attached at intervals. The lines may be set vertically in the water or horizontally along the bottom. Species caught are determined by hook size and the type of bait used.

Trolling with lines involves towing a number of baited lines through the water to attract fish. Pole and line fishing involves catching fish attracted to the surface of water by light or scattering bait. Species typically caught using these methods also include Tuna and Swordfish.

Hand lines are commonly used to catch Squid, Wild Bass and Pollack using a rod with mono-filament fishing line. Hand lining is one of the most selective ways in which to catch fish due to the nature of fish to lure, rather than scooping up fish en-masse.

Jigging is widely used to capture Squid. A jig is a type of grappling hook which is attached to a line and jerked in the water, either manually or mechanically, to snag fish. This type of fishing usually happens at night with the aid of light attraction.

Pots (traps)

Pots are small baited traps set out and retrieved by boats. They’re widely used in all parts of the world to capture shellfish including Crabs, Lobsters, Whelks and on occasion, Octopus. Pots are constructed from galvanised wire with nylon netting. They’re complex constructions fitted with locks to make escape impossible once the animal has ventured inside to take the bait.

Hand Diving

Weather permitting, we occasionally have local divers hand-picking Scallops and Razor Clams from the seabed in various Cornish coves and ports. It’s hard work and requires dedication, and divers are ruled by regulations designed to make diving safe to ensure shellfish is safe to eat. Scallop harvesting in this way has no harmful effect on the seabed.

Trawling (towed gears) 

Otter trawls are large cone-shaped nets that are towed across the seabed. The opening of the net is kept open using otter boards or doors. The fish are herded between the boards into the mouth of the trawl where they are captured and retained. Demersal fish such as Sole, Turbot and Plaice can be caught using this fishing method. The type of species caught depends on the depth of water fished and the way in which the gear is constructed and rigged.

Beam trawls keep the mouth of the net open using a beam, mounted at each end on guides, which travel along the seabed. Beam trawlers are also used to target flat fish such as Sole and Plaice on or in the surface layers of sand. These trawls are made effective by attaching tickler chains to the beam which drag along the seabed in front of the net causing fish to rise and swim into the oncoming net.


Used for harvesting bivalve molluscs such as Oysters, Clams, Mussels, and Scallops from the seabed. A dredge is a metal framed basket with an iron-ringed or wire-netted bottom. The lower edge of the frame has a raking bar with or without teeth, depending on the species targeted. Molluscs are lifted off the seabed by the raking bar and passed into the basket.

Rope Growing

Our St Austell Bay Mussels are rope-grown which is a great way to cultivate quality mussels. The ropes are suspended from long-lines that are anchored to the seabed, and the mussel larvae attach themselves directly to the lines. This means they don’t touch the seabed and pick up grit or barnacles. The meat content is also high as they’re not exposed at low tides allowing them to constantly feed.

Want to know more?

If you’re a professional chef and want to find out more about fishing methods and gears, fish ecology and sourcing, book a place on our next Sustainable Fish Seminar (winter season only).