Common Fishing Methods

If you are buying or sourcing seafood, it is important to consider how it is caught. Below are a few examples of common fishing practices, labeled “best practices,” “context-specific,” and “harmful practices.” Please note that this is not an exhaustive list.

Best Practices


There are many locally specific native fishing methods that communities have been using for generations while maintaining balance and harmony with the ocean. 


This is a special take on either pole & line or longlining. Jigs are barbed hooks that can be attached to a handline or in a series on a longline. They are dragged in a jerking motion to imitate a living creature to attract fish and squid. Jigging is quite noninvasive and targeted, so has minimal unintended bycatch or other negative impacts to the environment.


This is very similar to recreational fishing and perhaps a familiar picture to many. Pole & line uses bait, barbed hooks or lures to attract and catch fish one by one. This is the most human-scale option with very low environmental impact or bycatch risk.



Longline fishing is a commercial fishing method using a long line with up to a thousand baited hooks. Longlines can be set to float at the surface or weighted to sit on the seafloor. The greatest bycatch risk from longlines is posed to seabirds who are also attracted to the bait or to the fish being caught.

  • FAD-free longlines help to reduce bycatch and are a better option. 
  • Bottom lines are preferred over surface lines to avoid bycatch.


Aquaculture is the practice of farming fish, also known as “aquafarming” under controlled conditions in enclosed areas. Aquaculture can apply to both freshwater and saltwater species of fish, crustaceans, molluscs, plants and other organisms. Sustainable farming practices can significantly help to reduce the pressure on wild fish stocks and improve existing fish farms, where 59% of fish available for human consumption is expected to originate from aquaculture production in 2030, up from 52% in 2018. (FAO). While aquaculture avoids the destruction caused by bycatch and exploiting wild fish populations, there are many inherent challenges it creates. 

  • Similar to animal agriculture, aquaculture at scale produces large and concentrated amounts of animal waste, which pollutes the water severely causing harmful algae blooms, hypoxic conditions (in which water is depleted of oxygen) and disease. 
  • Many farmed fish are fed smaller wild-caught fish, which may cause some of the same harmful fishing impacts depending on the fishing method and type of fish. On average, it takes more than 1lb of wild fish to produce 1lb of farmed products for species like shrimp and salmon.
  • Mangroves and other critical coastal habitat is often destroyed as space is cleared for the formation of aquaculture farms. Mangroves, seagrass, salt marsh, and other coastal habitats provide critical ecosystem services, such as nursery grounds for wild fisheries, storm surge and erosion protection, carbon storage and sequestration, etc.
  • When fish are kept in such close proximity and with poor water flow, they start to breed disease, and antibiotics are often used for population control. This introduces further chemical pollution into the water and perpetuates unhealthy living conditions for the fish as well as the surrounding ecosystem. This also results in excess antibiotic consumption by humans.
  • It is possible to create sustainable systems of aquaculture that consider the health of the surrounding ecosystem in the design of the individual farm, and reduce dependency on wild-caught fish as feed. This can be achieved through regulation and enforcement of best practices, as well as through the development of technology and refinement of the new and growing industry. An integrated ecological approach is necessary to build a regenerative future.


A purse seine is a large wall of netting with floats at the surface and weights at the bottom that can surround a full area and capture an entire school of fish. When the line is drawn it “purses” the net closed at the bottom so everything in the area is trapped from swimming away in any direction other than up towards the boat as the net is pulled in. This is a non-selective fishing method, because it catches everything in the designated area, as such, bycatch is inevitable.


Gillnets are walls of netting that either drift and are kept afloat at the surface, or are “set” anchored in the water. They can be up to two miles long and hundreds of feet deep. The net is designed so that fish can only fit their heads through the netting, but not their full body, so they get caught around their gills. This fishing method has high bycatch rates, as any fish of a certain head size will get caught, regardless of species.

Harmful Practices


This is the practice of dragging a large weighted net along the seafloor. The issue is it destroys everything in its wake, damaging sensitive habitats like coral reefs, and captures a lot of unintended fish like sharks, dolphins, turtles and even whales in the process. It would be the equivalent of dragging a net across the savannah, accidentally capturing elephants and giraffes in its wake. This is common fishing practice with commercial fishing although a growing number of countries including Hong Kong, Indonesia, Palau and Belize are banning it altogether and others including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Malaysia and China have established no-trawl zones.


This is a fishing method that sends electric shocks through the sediment to electrocute and capture marine life on the seafloor, which is an adaptation of “beam” trawls with chains that had previously been used. The electric shocks are not discriminating, they electrocute all marine life also impacting eggs, juveniles and the water chemistry itself. As such, there is much unintended bycatch associated with this fishing method and long-lasting habitat destruction.