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 vital 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 essential to maintain 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 with the Deep-Sea Trawlers Association and Canadian Groundfish Research & Conservation Society on research activities and operational programs supporting a healthy and well-managed Groundfish trawl fishery. The groundfish trawl fishery pioneered the accountability process for BC seafood by implementing 100% at-sea and dockside monitoring programs that accurately account for total catch and mortality for groundfish by individual species and stock.

About

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 low in fat and a mild flavour. Lingcod is a larger groundfish commonly found in restaurants and prepared in various ways. Pacific Cod have elongated bodies with three dorsal fins. Pacific Hake, Walleye Pollock, and Pacific Cod are all cod species. They 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 the 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 can 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.

Various management measures are in place to promote selective fishing, minimize waste, ensure accountability, minimize bottom contact, and protect critical habitats, such as coral and sponge reefs.

Learn more about trawling as a harvest method

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Sustainability

The Groundfish trawl industry is limited entry with a specific number of licenses (142) available to harvest Groundfish with bottom and mid-water trawl gear commercially. This fishery catches large volumes of fish, and strict management measures are 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. There is also 100% dockside monitoring of all fish landed to ensure accurate species enumeration and landed weights. The vessel master must complete a DFO-approved catch harvest logbook while fishing that documents 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 ship 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 yearly to cover bycatch or quota overages.

When

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 (for fresh fish deliveries) to a couple of weeks (for frozen fish deliveries) at a time.

When

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 (for fresh fish deliveries) to a couple of weeks (for frozen fish deliveries) at a time.

Where

Commercial Groundfish trawlers harvest along the entire coast of BC. Harvesters can target different species of fish based on their location. For example, 15 species 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 habitats or to avoid species of low abundance.

The market

Many species of Groundfish are popular locally and internationally. Cod, Sole, or Rockfish are on menus in many 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 kitchen opportunities. Each species of Groundfish is popular in different markets around the world, depending on the culture and cuisine.