Even with the refinements of modern science and technology, fishing remains an essentially primitive method of obtaining food. In our exploitation of the fish stocks of the sea, we still behave mainly as nomadic hunters or trappers of natural populations of animals living in the wild state. There are broadly three ways of capturing fish: they may be scooped out of the water by means of a net bag such as a trawl or seine; they may be enticed to bite upon a baited hook attached to a fishing line; or they may be snared or entangled in some form of trap such as a drift net. In whaling the quarry is pursued and speared with a harpoon. The main gears and vessels used in commercial fishing worldwide are described in Sainsbury (1996).
Each method is modified in innumerable ways to suit local conditions, and the following brief account refers mainly to the fishing techniques used commercially in the north-east Atlantic area, though large commercial fisheries worldwide use much the same techniques. These fisheries comprise two major groups, the demersal and the pelagic fisheries. Demersal fishing takes place on the sea floor for species which live mainly close to the bottom, for example cod, haddock, saithe, hake, plaice and sole. The principal method of demersal fishing is by trawl. Danish seines and long lines are also used. Pelagic fisheries seek shoals of fish which, while they may roam throughout a considerable depth of water, are caught near the surface, for example herring, mackerel, pilchard and sprat. The chief pelagic fisheries make use of drift nets, ring nets and seines, and pelagic line fishing. The areas in which various species are sought are indicated in Figure 9.1.
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