Groundfish Trawl

The fishery

The Groundfish Trawl fishery is a complex multispecies fishery harvesting over a hundred different types of groundfish. This fishery harvests Rockfish, Sole, Pacific Cod, Pacific hake, Flounder, Pollock, Lingcod, Sablefish and more! It is not uncommon for a commercial trawler to catch more than a dozen different species in a single tow. The groundfish trawl industry is very important to the socio-economic well-being of BC, providing hundreds of harvesting and processing jobs to rural coastal communities and fishing families around the province. Since the fishery runs year-round, it’s also very important for maintaining the critical infrastructure (fuel docks, offloading facilities, ice houses, trucking, gear suppliers, and maintenance yards) for all commercial fisheries.

The Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) works in partnership with the Deep-Sea Trawlers Association and Canadian Groundfish Research & Conservation Society on research activities and operational programs in support of a healthy and well-managed Groundfish trawl fishery. The groundfish trawl fishery pioneered the accountability process for BC seafood with implementation of 100% at-sea and dockside monitoring programs that accurately account for total catch and mortality for groundfish by individual species and stock.


Groundfish refers to an extremely broad category of fish species that live and feed near the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. With over 100 different species of fish harvested by the Groundfish trawl sector, there are some key species commonly brought to market. Soles and Flounders are a group of flatfish smaller than halibut with white flesh that is low in fat with a mild flavour. Lingcod are a larger groundfish commonly found in restaurants and prepared in a variety of ways. Pacific Cod have elongated bodies, with three dorsal fins. Pacific hake, Walleye Pollock and Pacific cod are all cod species and are caught throughout BC waters and sold to both domestic and international markets in a variety of product forms. There are more than 30 different species of Rockfish found in Canada’s Pacific waters, but most common types caught in the groundfish trawl fishery are Silvergrey, Canary, Yellowtail, Widow, Pacific Ocean Perch, Yellowmouth, and Rougheye rockfish. Rockfish can range in colour and appearance, but generally have large eyes and long dorsal fin spines on their backs.

The harvest

Deepsea Groundfish are harvested using trawl gear, which is a very common fishing method that involves a net being towed by a boat through the water. Trawl nets are shaped like a cone with a wide opening to catch fish and a narrow-closed end. Trawlers are able to target different species by setting the trawl net at specific depths, time of day, and locations. These vessels are larger (ranging from 35-175 feet), can hold large quantities of fish, and can operate in inclement conditions.

There are various management measures in place to promote selective fishing, minimize waste, ensure accountability, minimize bottom contact, and protect important habitat, such as coral and sponge reefs.

Learn more about trawling as a harvest method



The Groundfish trawl industry is limited entry with a specific number of licences (142) available to commercially harvest Groundfish with bottom and mid-water trawl gear. This fishery catches large volumes of fish and there are strict management measures in place to ensure that the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) is not exceeded for each species and stock area. The Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for each species of fish is split between licenced vessels, with each allocated a share (referred to as an Individual Vessel Quota or IVQ) of the approximately 60 different TACs.  All vessels are required to have government certified at-sea monitoring to record vessel location and catch, both retained and released, on a per tow basis for all tows. There is also 100% dockside monitoring of all fish landed to ensure accurate species enumeration and landed weights. The vessel master is required to complete while fishing a DFO approved catch harvest Logbook that documents estimated catch by species, and all fishing details including the set and haul date, time, location, and gear type.

The at-sea and dockside data are merged to calculate the total catch weight of both retained and released fish and the quantity is deducted from the vessel’s IVQ. If a vessel has insufficient quota for a specific species to cover its catch, it must transfer fish from another vessel to cover it or remain at the port and not fish for the remainder of the year until the quota is deducted from the following year’s allocation. About 4,000 quotas are transferred between vessels each year to cover bycatch or quota overages.


The Groundfish fishery operates year-round, the season begins on February 21st and ends on February 20th of the following year. Groundfish trawlers fish based on market demand and remain at sea for several days (fresh fish deliveries) to a couple of weeks (frozen fish deliveries) at a time.


The Groundfish fishery operates year-round, the season begins on February 21st and ends on February 20th of the following year. Groundfish trawlers fish based on market demand and remain at sea for several days (fresh fish deliveries) to a couple of weeks (frozen fish deliveries) at a time.


Commercial Groundfish trawlers harvest along the entire coast of BC. Harvesters can target different species of fish based on their location. For example, there are 15 species that have stocks coast-wide, and 13 species are specific to the Hecate Strait around Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii. Harvesters can selectively harvest to avoid fishing in specific areas to protect sensitive fish habitat or to avoid species of low abundance.

The market

Many species of Groundfish are popular locally and internationally. Cod, Sole or Rockfish can be found on menus in many different countries. The Groundfish Trawl fishery provides annually hundreds of millions of meals to markets around the world. Groundfish are available in a variety of product forms providing great versatility and endless opportunities in the kitchen. Each species of Groundfish is popular in different markets around the world depending on the culture and cuisines.