Commercial fishing

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Commercial crab fishing at the Elbe River in June 2007. Greetsiel 33 Poseidon 01.jpg
Commercial crab fishing at the Elbe River in June 2007.

Commercial fishing is the activity of catching fish and other seafood for commercial profit, mostly from wild fisheries. It provides a large quantity of food to many countries around the earth, but those who practice it as an industry must often pursue fish far into the ocean under adverse conditions. Large-scale commercial fishing is also known as industrial fishing .


The major fishing industries are not only owned by major corporations but by small families as well. [1] In order to adapt to declining fish populations and increased demand, many commercial fishing operations have reduced the sustainability of their harvest by fishing further down the food chain. This raises concern for fishery managers and researchers, who highlight how further they say that for those reasons, the sustainability of the marine ecosystems could be in danger of collapsing. [1]

Commercial fishermen harvest a wide variety of animals. However, a very small number of species support the majority of the world's fisheries of these species are herring, cod, anchovy, tuna, flounder, mullet, squid, shrimp, salmon, crab, lobster, oyster and scallops. All except these last four provided a worldwide catch of well over a million tonnes in 1999, with herring and sardines together providing a catch of over 22 million metric tons in 1999. Many other species are fished in smaller numbers.

In 2016, of the 171 million tonnes of fish caught, about 88 percent or over 151 million tonnes were utilized for direct human consumption. This share has increased significantly in recent decades, as it was 67 percent in the 1960s. [2] In 2016, the greatest part of the 12 percent used for non-food purposes (about 20 million tonnes) was reduced to fishmeal and fish oil (74 percent or 15 million tonnes), while the rest (5 million tonnes) was largely utilized as material for direct feeding in aquaculture and raising of livestock and fur animals, in culture (e.g. fry, fingerlings or small adults for ongrowing), as bait, in pharmaceutical uses and for ornamental purposes. [2]


The industry, in 2006, also managed to generate over 185 billion dollars in sales and also provide over two million jobs in the United States, according to an economic report released by NOAA's Fisheries Service. [3] Commercial fishing may offer an abundance of jobs, but the pay varies from boat to boat, season to season. Crab fisherman Cade Smith was quoted in an article by Business Week as saying, "There was always a top boat where the crew members raked in $50,000 during the three- to five-day king crab season—or $100,000 for the longer snow crab season". [4] That may be true, but there are also the boats who do not do well; Smith said later in the same article that his worst season left him with a loss of 500 dollars. [4]

The industry has had to adapt through the years in order to keep earning a profit. A study taken on some small family-owned commercial fishing companies showed that they adapted to continue to earn a living but not necessarily make a large profit. [1]

Many people working in commercial fishing are self-employed, with some or all of their pay dependent on the proceeds from the sale of the fish caught. In the UK, the technical term for this is share fisherman, [5] which refers to anyone working without an employment contract, on a boat manned by more than one person, and relying for their livelihood at least partly on a share of the profits or gross sales of the fishing boat's catch.

Methods and gear

Seabirds with longline fishing vessel Seabirds longlinersm.jpg
Seabirds with longline fishing vessel

Commercial fishing uses many different methods to effectively catch a large variety of species including the use of pole and line, trolling with multiple lines, trawling with large nets, and traps or pots. [6] Sustainability of fisheries is improved by using specific equipment that eliminates or minimizes catching non-targeted species.

Fishing methods vary according to the region, the species being fished for, and the technology available to the fishermen. A commercial fishing enterprise may vary from one man with a small boat with hand-casting nets or a few pot traps, to a huge fleet of trawlers processing tons of fish every day.

Commercial fishing gears in use today include surrounding nets (e.g. purse seine), seine nets (e.g. beach seine), trawls (e.g. bottom trawl), dredges, hooks and lines (e.g. long line and handline), lift nets, gillnets, entangling nets, Pole and Line, and traps

Commercial fishing gear is specifically designed and updated to avoid catching certain species of animal that is unwanted or endangered. Billions of dollars are spent each year in researching/developing new techniques to reduce the injury and even death of unwanted marine animals caught by the fishermen. [7] In fact, there was a study taken in 2000 on different deterrents and how effective they are at deterring the target species. The study showed that most auditory deterrents helped prevent whales from being caught while more physical barriers helped prevent birds from getting tangled within the net. [8]

Occupational health and safety

Trawl fishermen wearing personal flotation devices in a January 2009 trial Trawl fishermen personal flotation devices.jpg
Trawl fishermen wearing personal flotation devices in a January 2009 trial

During 2010-2014, 188 commercial fishing fatalities occurred in the United States, with fatality rates in different fishing fleets ranging from 21 to 147 deaths per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers (FTEs), which is many times higher than the fatality rate for all U.S. workers. [9] During 1919 and 2005, 4111 fishermen died in fishing related accidents in the United Kingdom industry alone. [10] These deaths are generally a result of a combination of severe weather conditions, extreme fatigue because any one fisherman usually puts in a 21-hour shift, and dangerous equipment. [4] [11] Commercial fishing has been identified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) as a priority industry sector in the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) to identify and provide intervention strategies regarding occupational health and safety issues. [12] [13]

Hazards and hazard controls

San Miguel Rescue - The Coast Guard Rescued Three Commercial Fishermen San Miguel Rescue - The Coast Guard Rescued Three Commercial Fishermen.jpg
San Miguel Rescue - The Coast Guard Rescued Three Commercial Fishermen

Common causes of fishing-related deaths include vessel disasters, falls overboard, and onboard injuries. [14]

Between 2000 and 2010, most vessel disasters often were initiated by flooding, vessel instability, and large waves, and that severe weather conditions contributed to a majority of fatal vessel disasters. [14]

The most frequent cause of death is falls overboard. [15] Falling overboard specifically killed 182 fishermen in the period between 2000 and 2010. [16] This fatality rate is 3 times that of the next most dangerous job in the U.S. and more than 25 times that of the national average across all workers. [17] [11] Most falls overboard went unwitnessed, and in none of the cases documented was the victim wearing a personal flotation device (PFD). [14] Several institutions have tried to change the culture surrounding safety on commercial fishing boats, especially around wearing personal flotation devices. The Alaska Scallop Association mandates that every fisherman must wear a PFD while on deck of the boat, and other organizations have purchased more wearable PFDs. [16]

NIOSH prototype emergency stop (e-stop) being tested on the purse seiner F/V Lake Bay. NIOSH E-Stop Fishing.jpg
NIOSH prototype emergency stop (e-stop) being tested on the purse seiner F/V Lake Bay.

Onboard injuries often result when a crew member is caught in a line and pulled into a winch on deck. The installation of a readily accessible emergency stop switch on the winch can potentially prevent these kinds of injuries. [14] [18] Injury data collection systems have begun tracking fishing-related injuries (fatal and non-fatal), using publicly available reports such as news media. [19]


The U.S. Coast Guard has primary jurisdiction over the safety of the U.S. commercial fishing fleet, enforcing regulations of the U.S. Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety Act of 1988 (CFIVSA). CFIVSA regulations focus primarily on saving lives after the loss of a vessel and not on preventing vessels from capsizing or sinking, falls overboard, or injuries on deck. CFIVSA regulations require that commercial fishing vessels carry various equipment (e.g., life rafts, radio beacons, and immersion suits) depending on the size of the vessel and the area in which it operates. [17] Not all commercial fishermen follow safety regulations and advice. One study of Maine fishermen found that less than 25% of the fishermen interviewed had recent training in first aid or CPR, only 75% of the boats had survival suits and only 36% had a survival craft. [11] Even the ships that did have the necessary equipment did not consistently have a captain that fully understood how to use the safety equipment. [11]

Environmental risk

The oceans cover nearly two thirds of the Earth's surface, and are continuously threatened by human behaviors and practices. By taking so many fish from the seas, humans have managed to remove entire links from the marine food chain. This causes a chain effect, leading to an overall upset of the delicate ecological balance.

Sharks are one of the ocean's most threatened species because they are mistakenly caught by vessels searching for fish, and end up getting tossed back into the ocean dead or dying [20] This disappearance of sharks has enabled prey animals like rays to multiply, which alters the food chain.

Bycatch is the industry term for what they consider "unwanted or economically-worthless aquatic animals who are unintentionally caught using destructively indiscriminate fishing methods like longlines and driftnets, which generally target marketable marine creatures such as tuna and swordfish" [20] There are also billions of other animals that are killed in this manner every year such as: sea turtles, marine mammals, and sea birds. Between 1990 and 2008, it was estimated that 8.5 million sea turtles were fatally caught in nets or on longlines as bycatch.

Coral reefs are biodiversity-rich ecosystems which provide habitat for millions of aquatic species such as sponges, star fish, jellyfish, sea turtles, etc. Unfortunately, reef ecosystems are highly sensitive to chemical, temperature, and population changes. There has been an increasing disappearance of large predators such as barracuda, Nassau groupers, and sharks [20] This makes the reefs more vulnerable to invasion by non-native species.

Fish farming is the raising of fish for food in underwater enclosures, otherwise known as aquaculture. There are environmental hazards such as waste, damage to ecosystems, and negative effects on humans. [21] Because they are so densely packed together, the fecal matter that accumulates can create algal blooms, or deadly parasites and viruses that thrive on the filthy environment. These can infect wild fish that swim near the enclosure, or whole colonies of fish if an infected farm fish escapes the enclosure.

Overfishing occurs because fish are captured at a faster rate than they can reproduce. Both advanced fishing technologies and increased demand for fish have resulted in overfishing. The Food and Agricultural Organization has reported that "about 25 percent of the world's captured fish end up thrown overboard because they are caught unintentionally, are illegal market species, or are of inferior quality and size" [22] It should not go unnoticed that overfishing has caused more ecological extinction than any other human influence on coastal ecosystems.

See also


Definition of Free Cultural Works logo notext.svg  This article incorporates text from a free content work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO License statement/permission on Wikimedia Commons . Text taken from In brief, The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture, 2018 , FAO, FAO. To learn how to add open license text to Wikipedia articles, please see this how-to page. For information on reusing text from Wikipedia, please see the terms of use.

Related Research Articles

Fishing Activity of trying to catch fish

Fishing is the activity of trying to catch fish. Fish are often caught in the wild but may also be caught from stocked bodies of water. Techniques for catching fish include hand gathering, spearing, netting, angling and trapping. "Fishing" may include catching aquatic animals other than fish, such as molluscs, cephalopods, crustaceans, and echinoderms. The term is not normally applied to catching farmed fish, or to aquatic mammals, such as whales where the term whaling is more appropriate. In addition to being caught to be eaten, fish are caught as recreational pastimes. Fishing tournaments are held, and caught fish are sometimes kept as preserved or living trophies. When bioblitzes occur, fish are typically caught, identified, and then released.

Fisherman Someone who captures fish and other animals from a body of water, or gathers shellfish

A fisher or fisherman is someone who captures fish and other animals from a body of water, or gathers shellfish.

Longline fishing Commercial fishing technique

Longline fishing, or longlining, is a commercial fishing technique. It uses a long line, called the main line, with baited hooks attached at intervals by means of branch lines called snoods. A snood is a short length of line, attached to the main line using a clip or swivel, with the hook at the other end. Longlines are classified mainly by where they are placed in the water column. This can be at the surface or at the bottom. Lines can also be set by means of an anchor, or left to drift. Hundreds or even thousands of baited hooks can hang from a single line. Longliners – fishing vessels rigged for longlining – commonly target swordfish, tuna, halibut, sablefish and many other species.


Overfishing is the removal of a species of fish from a body of water at a rate that the species cannot replenish, resulting in those species becoming underpopulated in that area. In a Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations 2018 report, the FAO estimates that one-third of world fish stocks were overfished by 2015. Over 30 billion euros in public subsidies are directed to fisheries annually.

Fishing industry The economic sector concerned with taking, culturing, processing, preserving, storing, transporting, marketing or selling fish or fish products

The fishing industry includes any industry or activity concerned with taking, culturing, processing, preserving, storing, transporting, marketing or selling fish or fish products. It is defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization as including recreational, subsistence and commercial fishing, and the related harvesting, processing, and marketing sectors. The commercial activity is aimed at the delivery of fish and other seafood products for human consumption or as input factors in other industrial processes. Directly or indirectly, the livelihood of over 500 million people in developing countries depends on fisheries and aquaculture.


Gillnetting is a fishing method that uses gillnets: vertical panels of netting that hang from a line with regularly spaced floaters that hold the line on the surface of the water. The floats are sometimes called "corks" and the line with corks is generally referred to as a "cork line." The line along the bottom of the panels is generally weighted. Traditionally this line has been weighted with lead and may be referred to as "lead line." A gillnet is normally set in a straight line. Gillnets can be characterized by mesh size, as well as colour and type of filament from which they are made. Fish may be caught by gillnets in three ways:

  1. Wedged – held by the mesh around the body.
  2. Gilled – held by mesh slipping behind the opercula.
  3. Tangled – held by teeth, spines, maxillaries, or other protrusions without the body penetrating the mesh.
Lobster fishing

Lobsters are widely fished around the world for their meat. They are often hard to catch in large numbers, but their large size can make them a profitable catch. Although the majority of the targeted species are tropical, the majority of the global catch is in temperate waters.

Krill fishery

The krill fishery is the commercial fishery of krill, small shrimp-like marine animals that live in the oceans world-wide. The present estimate for the biomass of Antarctic krill is 379 million tonnes. The total global harvest of krill from all fisheries amounts to 150–200,000 tonnes annually, mainly Antarctic krill and North Pacific krill.

Drift netting

Drift netting is a fishing technique where nets, called drift nets, hang vertically in the water column without being anchored to the bottom. The nets are kept vertical in the water by floats attached to a rope along the top of the net and weights attached to another rope along the bottom of the net. Drift nets generally rely on the entanglement properties of loosely affixed netting. Folds of loose netting, much like a window drapery, snag on a fish's tail and fins and wrap the fish up in loose netting as it struggles to escape. However the nets can also function as gill nets if fish are captured when their gills get stuck in the net. The size of the mesh varies depending on the fish being targeted. These nets usually target schools of pelagic fish.

Alaskan king crab fishing Commercial harvest of Alaskan king crab

Alaskan king crab fishing is carried out during the fall in the waters off the coast of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. The commercial harvest is performed during a very short season, and the catch is shipped worldwide. Large numbers of king crab are also caught in Russian and international waters.

Environmental impact of fishing

The environmental impact of fishing includes issues such as the availability of fish, overfishing, fisheries, and fisheries management; as well as the impact of industrial fishing on other elements of the environment, such as by-catch. These issues are part of marine conservation, and are addressed in fisheries science programs. According to a 2019 FAO report, global production of fish, crustaceans, molluscs and other aquatic animals has continued to grow and reached 172.6 million tonnes in 2017, with an increase of 4.1 percent compared with 2016. There is a growing gap between the supply of fish and demand, due in part to world population growth.

<i>The End of the Line</i> (book)

The End of the Line: How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat is a book by journalist Charles Clover about overfishing. It was made into a movie released in 2009 and was re-released with updates in 2017.

Commercial fishing in Alaska

Commercial fishing is a major industry in Alaska, and has been for hundreds of years. Alaska Natives have been harvesting salmon and many other types of fish for millennia. Russians came to Alaska to harvest its abundance of sealife, as well as Japanese and other Asian cultures.

Fishing in India

Fishing in India is a major industry employing 14.5 million people. India ranks second in aquaculture and third in fisheries production. Fisheries contributes to 1.07% of the Total GDP of India. According to the National Fisheries Development Board the Fisheries Industry generates an export earnings of Rs 334.41 billion. Centrally sponsored schemes will increase exports by Rs 1 lakh crore in FY25. 65,000 fishermen have been trained under these schemes since year 2017 to year 2020. Freshwater consists 55% of total fish production.

Fishing industry in South Korea

Until the 1960s, agriculture and fishing were the dominant industries of the economy of South Korea. The fishing industry of South Korea depends on the existing bodies of water that are shared between South Korea, China and Japan. Its coastline lies adjacent to the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan, and enables access to marine life such as fish and crustaceans.

Fishing industry in China

China has one-fifth of the world's population and accounts for one-third of the world's reported fish production as well as two-thirds of the world's reported aquaculture production.

Fishing industry in the United States

As with other countries, the 200 nautical miles (370 km) exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off the coast of the United States gives its fishing industry special fishing rights. It covers 11.4 million square kilometres, which is the second largest zone in the world, exceeding the land area of the United States.

Fishing industry in Russia

The coastline of the Russian Federation is the fourth longest in the world after the coastlines of Canada, Greenland, and Indonesia. The Russian fishing industry has an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 7.6 million km2 including access to twelve seas in three oceans, together with the landlocked Caspian Sea and more than two million rivers.

Fishing in Pakistan

Fishery and fishing industry plays a significant part in the national economy of Pakistan. With a coastline of about 814 km, Pakistan has enough fishery resources that remain to be developed. Most of the population of the coastal areas of Sindh and Balochistan depends on fisheries for livelihood. It is also a major source of export earning.

The Fishing industry in Thailand, in accordance with usage by The World Bank, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other multinational bodies, refers to and encompasses recreational fishing, aquaculture, and wild fisheries both onshore and offshore.


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