The Capture Fishing Industry

Shrimp trawlerCapture fishing is one of the most common forms of fishing. Capture fishing encompasses every fishing activity that involves capturing wild fish or shellfish. Recreational fishing, like what you might do at a nearby lake or river is a form of capture fishing. The recreational fishing practiced worldwide is reminiscent of human's first attempts at fishing, albeit with much more sophisticated equipment. Perhaps the simplest form of capture fishing is fishing without gear other than your bare hands and your wits. This was probably the first form of fishing practiced by humans. Current industrial fishing techniques are much more complicated and capture many more fish more efficiently and quickly than gearless fishing. As the fishing industry developed, many new techniques and equipment emerged, 16 of which are listed below. Click on any of the techniques for a description.

List of fishing techniquesThe fishing industry is a $70 billion dollar a year industry that consists of over 37,000 industrial ships, and employs over a million people world wide. An estimated 12 million small-boat fishermen also join the ranks of the fishing industry but on a much smaller scale. For comparison, the 37,000 industrial ships harvest approximately the same volume of fish as the 12 million small-boat fishermen do each year.

Most fish or shellfish are captured using either nets, hooked lines, or traps, the details of each can be viewed by selecting one from the menu to the left. The standard industrial ship for capturing fish is the trawler. Most are equipped with a diesel engine and the various equipment necessary for the function they serve. The ship pictured above is an example of a shrimp trawler with the appropriate nets required for harvesting shrimp.

Large fishing vessels that undergo long fishing voyages are equipped with fish processing and storage facilities. A fully equipped factory trawler will have equipment for harvesting the fish, processing the fish into fillets or canning it, and then freezing and storing it. Some ships may also have the facilities to dry and grind the fish into fishmeal. Factory ships are often crewed by over 500 people and are accompanied by their own fleet of "catcher" boats. The most important and influential countries with large fishing fleets includes Russia, Spain, Norway, and Japan.

According to Vital Signs 1996, finfish catches in 1996 reached a record high of 109 million tons. Most experts agree this level of fishing is not sustainable. There are approximately 200 fish stocks being harvested globally and of those 200, about 50 are overfished, while about another 75 are fully utilized (Science News June 8, 1996). For more information about the environmental problems facing the fishing industry go to the environment section. As a result of the diminishing fish supply and, in some cases, decimated fish stocks in the Northeastern fisheries, the United States and many other nations have instituted a quota system on a species by species basis. The quota system limits how many fishermen may fish, in what seasons they may fish, and how much fish they can catch. Although is some cases the institution of the quota system was too late to prevent the decimation of some commercial species (Atlantic Cod), it has helped sustain, or at least minimize the damage to the fish stocks. In some cases the quota system has enabled the fish stocks to regenerate, especially in the Alaska fishery.

Another important aspect of commercial capture fisheries is the issue of who owns the fish. After World War II a new system was implemented in which the fish along the coast 12 nautical miles out to sea belonged to the nation who controlled the coast. As the seas began to be fished out 12 nm became too constrictive and the line was extended to 200 nm. Overfishing has made fish so scarce that the 200 nm limit is no longer sufficient for fisheries to produce a profitable quantity of fish. The problem is that many fishermen are no longer honoring the 200 nm limit and are fishing from waters that are claimed by another nation. This leads to distrust, suspicion, and even open conflict between the rival fishermen and their corresponding nations.

After decades, even centuries of growth, the capture fish industry is reaching a plateau, one which it is likely never to top. It is likely that the annual harvests will begin to slowly decrease in size for some years to come. Some scientists estimate that sustainable catches are likely less that 60 million tons annually, almost half of 1996's record harvest. Almost everyone agrees however, that the seas are overfished. The only question that remains is how to start fixing the damage we've done.

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