What Type of Fishing Boat is This? Discovering Different Commercial Fishing Boats, Part 1
Purse seiners are used to catch salmon, mainly pink salmon, and herring. They do this by encircling the fish with a long net and then closing the bottom of the net to capture them. The net is first stacked at the back of the boat and then released into the water as the boat moves in a large circle around the fish. The far end of the net is connected to a power skiff, which assists by holding the net while the seiner completes the circle.
A “float line” runs through colorful floats, keeping the top of the net on the water’s surface. At the same time, a weighted “lead line” allows the bottom of the net to hang vertically. As a result, the net forms a curtain around the school of fish.
The crew then uses a “purse line” to close the bottom of the net. Hydraulic power blocks (winches) are employed to retrieve the lines and the net. Once most of the net has been retrieved, leaving a portion in a “bag” beside the vessel, the fish are scooped out from the bag and into the hold. For large herring catches, a buying vessel or “tender” approaches the fishing vessel and uses a fish pump to transfer the herring from the purse seine directly onto the tender without involving the seiner.
Purse seiners, also known as “limit seiners,” are sleek, cabin-forward boats. They are limited by Alaska law to a maximum length of 58 feet, allowing for a more precise management of their fishing efforts. You can identify purse seiners by their clean, long decks, the presence of a boom with a power block, a net stacked at the back, and a power skiff often riding “piggyback” at the stern. When they are fishing, the circle of floats on the water’s surface and the power skiff assisting in the operation are clear indicators.
Salmon caught with a seine net are delivered “in-the-round” (whole) to buying stations and canneries. There, they are processed into canned or frozen products. Herring, on the other hand, are taken to processing plants where they are either stripped of their roe (eggs) or packaged as bait for other commercial fisheries, such as longline and crab fisheries. Salted herring roe, known as “kazunoko,” is a highly valued delicacy in Japan.
Crabbers target Dungeness, king, and Tanner crabs using twine or wire-mesh steel pots, commonly known as traps. These pots are baited with herring or other fresh bait and left to “soak” for several days. Each pot is connected to a surface buoy that serves as a marker for its location. Different configurations of pots are used, but generally, smaller round pots are used for Dungeness crab in shallow bays and estuaries, while larger, heavier rectangular pots are deployed in waters deeper than 100 feet for king and Tanner crab. A power winch is utilized to retrieve the pots. Once onboard, the catch is sorted. Female and undersized males are released alive into the water, while legal-sized males are kept in seawater tanks.
Crab boats come in various sizes and shapes. They range from aluminum skiffs with outboard motors used for fishing Dungeness in coastal areas, to large seagoing vessels that exceed 100 feet and primarily fish for king crab in the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska. Identifying a vessel as a crabber can be challenging for casual observers, unless they see a boat loaded with pots heading towards the fishing grounds. Live crabs are delivered to shore stations, where they are cooked and either canned or sold as fresh or frozen products. A limited number of crabs are sold live in local markets through retail outlets with seawater tanks.
Troll vessels are employed to catch salmon, particularly chinook, coho, and pink salmon. This is done by trolling bait or lures through areas where fish are feeding. The word “troll” originates from a medieval German term, “trollen,” which refers to the revolving motion of the bait or lures used in this type of fishing.
Typically, troll vessels have four to six main wire lines. Each line is equipped with a heavy sinker (“cannon ball”) at the end and has 8 to 12 nylon leaders spaced along its length. Each leader terminates in a lure or baited hook. When a fish is hooked, hand trollers use a crank to wind in the main lines, while power trollers utilize hydraulic power. Once alongside the vessel, the fish are gaffed out of the water. The leaders are then rebaited and lowered back down to the desired depth(s).
Troll vessels come in various sizes and configurations. They range from small hand troll skiffs to large power troll vessels of 50 feet or more, capable of navigating the waters of Southeast Alaska in both state and federal areas.
The troll salmon fishery focuses on producing a low-volume, high-quality product. Salmon caught by trolling are dressed at sea and sold as fresh or frozen products. The final destinations for these premium catches are public markets and fine restaurants.
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