How A Gill Net Works: The Ultimate Guide To Fishing Nets

How A Gill Net Works

A gill net is a fundamental tool used in fishing. Nets have been around for centuries, with the first being made from natural materials like twine, vines, and reeds. 

Today, nets are typically nylon, although some fishermen still use traditional materials when netting in small streams and ponds. 

They are characteristically very long and narrow, and the mouth of the net is open along its entire length. 

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Gillnets can be deployed from boats or the shore. They are often used with other fishing gear, such as trawls and seines. But how do they work? This article will cover that in detail.

How Does A GillNet Work?

A Gillnet is a net used to catch fish in both fresh and saltwater. It is cylindrical and has several mesh panels evenly spaced along the net. The net is weighted down at the bottom and floats along the water’s surface. 

The net comprises a series of nets in vertical panels, hanging from a horizontal line with floaters that hold the line on the water’s surface. You’ll often notice these floaters (usually red) floating on waters less than 100m deep.

Fish swimming by will become entangled in the mesh and unable to escape. You can then pull the net out of the water, full with a huge catch of fish, onto the boat for storage.

What Are Gill Nets?

A gill net is a kind of fishing net shaped like a curtain. It hangs in the water and catches fish as they swim through it. They are typically made of nylon, and they have a mesh size that is designed to catch fish. 

Gill nets are often used in commercial fishing. They can be very effective at catching fish and have led to their ban in several states in the U.S. 

Gill nets effectively catch many different types of fish, including cod, flounder, etc. mackerel, herring, and salmon.

They are placed in the water, and the fish swim into them and get stuck. Gill nets work by entangling fish in the mesh as they swim through it. 

The mesh is designed to be larger at the top and gradually get smaller as it goes deeper, allowing smaller fish to escape. 

Then, the fisherman can pull the net out of the water and catch the fish. Gill nets are often used to capture large amounts of fish at once.

Fish Species That Gill Nets Catch

  • Tuna
  • Mullet
  • Hake
  • Flounder
  • Groundfish
  • Haddock
  • Pollock
  • Salmon
  • Barracuda
  • Cod
  • Herring
  • Shad
  • Sharks
  • Rockfish
  • Sturgeon
  • Seabass
  • Swordfish

Different Types Of Gill Nets

There are many gill nets, but they all work by encircling fish with netting mesh. As the fish try to escape, they swim into the net and become trapped.

Set gillnets

Set gillnets are nets set in a particular place and left there to catch fish. They are usually made of mesh, and the mesh size determines the size of the fish caught. Set gillnets are often used to catch small fish.

In a set gillnet, floats are used to keep the netting up off the bottom of the water, while weights are used to sink the net and hold it in place. 

Encircling gillnets

Encircling gillnets is the most common type of gill net because they effectively catch fish. They are set in a circular shape, with floats on the top and weights on the bottom. 

The encircling gillnet is so named because it is designed to surround a school of fish. It comprises several panels; each panel is a large mesh net. The panels are arranged in a circle, with the mesh size decreasing as you move inwards. 

The netting hangs down in the water, and when fish swims into it, their gills get caught in the net.

A combination of Gillnets and trammel nets

A combination of gillnets-trammel nets is a recent development in the fishing industry. These nets are designed to catch large and small fish using two nets. 

The combined gillnets-trammel nets are the most common gill net because they effectively catch fish. They are made up of two parts: the gillnet and the trammel net that intersect each other.

The gillnet is a net hung vertically in the water, and the trammel net is a net hung horizontally in the water.

The smaller net surrounds the larger net and catches any small fish that try to escape. This type of net is very effective at catching fish and has quickly become popular among fishermen.

Drift nets

There are many gill nets, but the drift net is one of the most common and controversial. Drift nets are so named because they are designed to drift with the current, trapping any fish that swim into them. 

They can be miles long and are often left unmanned for long periods, resulting in large amounts of bycatch.

They are often very large, with mesh sizes that range from inches to feet. The type of net used depends on the size of the target species and the fishing grounds. You can use drift nets in both fresh and saltwater.

Threats Associated With Gill Nets.

Gillnets pose a serious threat to marine mammals. They can entangle many marine mammals and lead to injury or death.

In some cases, marine mammals have been found with portions of their flesh removed by sharks or scavengers attracted to the trapped animal.

Fishermen often use them, and because they are so large and indiscriminate in what they catch, they can also unintentionally trap marine mammals. 

In some cases, fishermen will cut the nets loose once they realize they have caught a marine mammal, but this is not always possible.

Gillnets are particularly dangerous for cetaceans, including whales and dolphins. The gillnetting industry often uses monofilament gillnets which have been found to cause more than half of all cetacean mortalities from entanglement in U.S. waters. 

Cetaceans are mammals that breathe air through a blowhole and thus can become entangled in a gillnet very quickly. Gillnets are also the most common source of mortality for cetaceans in the U.S. Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Hawaii.

Catsharks, dogfish, rays, skates, and chimeras (sharks with a long snout) are often caught as bycatch when fishermen target other species such as flounder or mackerel. 

Marine mammals that can be caught in gillnets include;

  • Dolphins( Bottlenose, Common, and Right whale dolphins)
  • Whales(Humpback whales, Right whales, and Fin whales)
  • Seals(gray seals)
  • Sea lions 
  • Manatees
  • Harbor porpoise
  • Sea turtles

Threat To Sea Turtles 

It has been estimated that sea turtles have existed for over 100 million years, but they are now in danger of becoming extinct. 

The biggest threat to their survival is gillnetting, a type of fishing that uses a net with mesh so fine that it can entangle and kill sea turtles. 

There has been a significant loss of sea turtles due to gillnetting. An estimate of about 4,600 sea turtles is killed off by gill nets each year in the United States alone. 

This number could be even higher if more research were conducted on the impact of gillnetting on sea turtles. 

Sea turtles can get entangled in the netting as they swim through it, causing them to drown or become trapped underwater. 

In addition to gillnetting, other threats to sea turtles include habitat destruction, climate change, and pollution. If we want to save these ancient creatures, we need to protect them from these dangers.

Legality Of Gill Nets

The use of gill nets has been controversial, as they can be very harmful to fish populations. Some environmentalists argue that gill nets should be banned, as they are responsible for the deaths of millions of fish each year. 

Gillnet possession is prohibited in certain states and strictly restricted in others.

Drift gillnets with a large mesh are already prohibited in U.S. territorial waters, off the coastlines of Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Hawaii, and in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. 

They are, however, permissible in the bay waters of California, Virginia, and Maryland. Other states that allow gill net fishing in inland waters are; Oregon, Washington, Mississippi, Alaska, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Louisiana.

In Michigan, they allow gill nets in the Great Lakes and Alabama along the Gulf Of Mexico. Non-tribal fishing licenses on the Columbia River are issued by the governments of Oregon and Washington around 500 times a year.

Despite that, these states regulate the type of gillnets to use and where and when to fish.


This article has covered all there is to know about fishing nets, specifically gill nets. We’ve outlined how they work, the different types available, and some threats that come with gillnets. 

We hope you found this article helpful! For now, we’ll leave you with this: a gill net is a handy tool for fishermen, and knowing how it works will help you to make the most of your fishing trips. Thanks for reading!