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Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nationsfor a world without hunger
Deploying a purse seine
Deploying a purse seine


Methods to catch fish and other aquatic resources, with or without a gear, have always been practiced. Although the fundamental principles, i.e. filtering the water, luring and outwitting the prey and hunting, are the basis for most of the fishing gears and methods used even today, gears and methods have changed significantly over time and their capture efficiency is obviously hardly comparable to that of prehistoric times.

A fishing gear is the tool with which aquatic resources are captured, whereas the fishing method is how the gear is used. Gear also includes harvesting organisms when no particular gear (tool) is involved. Furthermore, the same fishing gear can be used in different ways. A common way to classify fishing gears and methods is based on the principles of how the fish or other prey are captured and, to a lesser extent, on the gear construction.

Pulling in fishing nets
Pulling in fishing nets

FAO defines and classifies the main categories of fishing gear as follows:

  1. Surrounding nets (including purse seines)
  2. Seine nets (including beach seines and Boat, Scottish/Danish seines)
  3. Trawl nets (including Bottom: Beam, Otter and Pair trawls, and Midwater trawls: Otter and Pair trawls)
  4. Dredges
  5. Lift nets
  6. Falling gears (including cast nets)
  7. Gillnets and entangling nets (including set and drifting gillnets; trammel nets)
  8. Traps (including pots, stow or bag nets, fixed traps)
  9. Hooks and lines (including handlines, pole and lines, set or drifting longlines, trolling lines)
  10. Grappling and wounding gears (including harpoons, spears, arrows, etc.)
  11. Stupefying devices

This classification is being slightly modified to accommodate the most recent development of fishing gears and methods and will soon be published.

Pole and line gear
Pole and line gear
FAO/Andrey Urcelayeta

Fishing methods have continuously evolved throughout recorded history. Fishers are inventive and not afraid of trying new ideas. The opportunities for innovation have been especially good in recent decades with advances in fibre technology, mechanization of gear handling, improved performances of vessels and motorization, computer processing for gear design, navigation aids, fish detection to mention only a few technologies.

Whereas technological development of fishing gear and methods in the past was aimed to increase production, the present situation with many overfished stock, limited possibilities to expand fishing on underexploited resources and concerns about the environmental impact of fishing operation, gear development is now very much focussed on selective fishing and gears with less impact on the environment.

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