Gillnetting is a traditional fishing method that has been used for many generations because it is an effective method of catching target fish species. Gillnet harvesting uses a wall of netting that hangs horizontally in the water column, similar to a fence or a gate. Gillnets are deployed off the stern (back) of the vessel and are held in place by floats along the top of the net and weights along the bottom. Boats that harvest using gillnets are typically smaller in size in comparison to other commercial harvesting vessels. In British Columbia, two major fisheries harvest using gillnet gear. Gillnetters harvest all five species of wild BC Salmon. The majority of the Herring Roe fishery is harvested using gillnets as well.

Gillnets are a type of fishing net that is used to catch fish in a variety of marine environments. Gillnets are invisible to fish, and they work by catching the catch the fish at the widest part of their body. Fish get caught as they attempt to swim through the net. The head of the fish fits through the net mesh, but not its body. The fish become entangled in the net behind their gills. Fish are caught in place until the gillnet is hauled by harvesters. Gillnets have been used for centuries by fishermen around the world and are still widely used today, providing an important source of food for many communities.

Gillnets are highly selective – a variety of regulations determine the mesh size, length, and height of commercial gillnets. These proper criteria, in combination with fisheries management, ensure sustainable gillnet fisheries. Gillnets harvest targeted species of fish based on the hole size, the depth they are set, and the location. Bycatch fish that are too big for the net will swim around, and juvenile fish that are too small will easily pass through the net. Gillnets also have low environmental impacts because they have minimal interaction with the sea floor.

In the Salmon gillnet fishery, the mesh size in the net is much larger than the mesh for Herring. As Salmon swim toward the nets, they become trapped by their gills. The mesh size and the way the nets are suspended allow the harvesters to selectively harvest any species or size of Salmon. Gillnetters harvest all five species of wild Salmon, but they mainly catch Sockeye and Chum Salmon in coastal rivers. Gillnets account for 25% of the commercial harvest of Salmon. The gillnet Salmon fishery opens periodically in different locations throughout the summer. Harvest times may vary year-to-year depending on species, life cycles of individual stocks, and fisheries management plans.

See more about the Salmon fishery. 

Gillnetting is the primary harvest method for the Herring Roe fishery in BC. Herring gillnetters fish in shallow waters, close to the ocean shore, as Herring are actively spawning in February and March. Adult Herring are caught in the gillnet after they have released their egg or sperm on the shoreline. Undersized juvenile Herring can easily pass through the net. This fishery can last three to 14 days in the Strait of Georgia. The length of the season is dependent on individual licence holders and vessels fulfilling their quota. There are only a few days when the Roe is at optimal quality, so it is a highly time-sensitive fishery.

See more about the Herring fishery.