Drift net fishing is a particular form of gillnet fishing. Gillnets are a family of fishing nets used to catch fish at different depths. A drift net is a gillnet allowed to drift in open water for the purpose of catching a target species of fish. Modern drift nets are popular because they can catch large amounts of fish quickly. The efficient qualities of the practice have made it popular in many parts of the world.

However, the drift netting technique is somewhat controversial and have been banned in some areas. Some of the controversy stems from their tendency to catch unintended fish and marine life. When exploring what is drift net fishing, fishers should know intended fish species can also be harmed by drift nets when they are injured while escaping them. Learn more about drift net fishing pros and cons by reading the sections below.

What is drift net fishing?

A drift net is a large mesh nets that are not anchored to the sea floor. They are sometimes anchored to boats via strong lines. However, many are also set loose in the ocean and allowed to drift completely free. In either case, drift nets are often marked with floating buoys. The buoys also help to suspend the nets at the proper depth to snare the intended fish species. Drift nets typically have loose mesh, allowing fish to become trapped by them in multiple ways. However, drift net fishing can also cause both target and non-target sea life to get caught in the nets.

A drift net can be hundreds of feet long and extend down through the water column many feet as well. A drift net must be set from a fishing boat in open water. Multiple crew members and hydraulic gear are typically required to complete the process. The net must be carefully fed over the side of the boat to keep it from becoming tangled. It must also be kept clear of the propulsion systems of the boat. After soaking for a predetermined period of time, the nets must be reeled in.

What are the differences between early and modern drift net fishing?

Early drift net fishing dates back several centuries. Originally, the nets were not constructed like they are today. They were traditionally made using biodegradable fibers and larger mesh. Young fish and many non-target species could easily swim through their holes. Also, a drift net lost at sea or abandoned for any reason would break down relatively quickly, reducing pollution, habitat destruction and unnecessary kills. In the 1950s synthetic fibers were introduced as alternatives to biodegradable netting. Since that time synthetic drift nets, which do not biodegrade, have often become ghost nets. Ghost nets are forgotten or lost nets that continue to fish with no owners. This can be considered a form of illegal drift netting because ghost nets kill all types of sea life as they are dragged through the oceans.

What kind of water is required for drift net fishing?

Small drift nets can be used in some freshwater areas throughout the world. In fact, they are often used for freshwater scientific sample collection in streams and other bodies of water. However, on a commercial scale, this particular type of gillnet is typically used for oceanic fishing. A large drift net is able to spread out properly and move through the ocean’s water because of the depths and currents.

Which types of fish are intentionally caught with drift net fishing?

Drift net fishing is intended to catch fish traveling in schools and exist in the mid-range between the surface and the ocean bottom. Such fish are known as pelagic species. There are many such species throughout the world, including salmon and tuna. In some cases, prawns can also be fished with drift nets specially set to float just above the sea floor.

What other creatures are endangered by drift net fishing?

All marine creatures are endangered by drift net fishing, especially when the drift nets are lost or deliberately left at sea. For example, Mediterranean swordfish is a popular drift net fishery, but the nets used to catch the swordfish also entangle other sea life. Multiple species of dolphins and whales are accidentally caught by drift nets intended for swordfish each year. Drift nets can also pose hazards for creatures ranging from birds to sea turtles. Although unusual for person to become caught in a drift net, a boat propeller can easily become entangled by one, causing financial setbacks as well as physical injuries. In some instances, large nets can also capsize boats.

Is drift net fishing legal everywhere?

Drift net fishing has been declared illegal in several areas although it is still practiced in many parts of the world. Some bans are total. Others exist at certain times of year to protect endangered species. For example, in 2017 Mexico placed a total ban on all forms of gillnet fishing in the waters surrounding it. The drift net ban was enacted to protect endangered vaquita porpoises. The United Nations and other organizations have also taken up the cause of improving or banning drift net fishing practices over the years. Therefore, drift net fishing enthusiasts must be careful to fish in parts of the ocean where the practice is legal.