Midwater Trawling: Catching Pelagic Fish


Midwater trawling is a fishing technique used to catch pelagic fish that live in the middle depths of the ocean. Unlike bottom trawling, which targets fish that live on the ocean floor, midwater trawling is less harmful to the seabed. However, it is associated with the incidental catch of non-target species, known as bycatch. In this article, we will explore the process of midwater trawling, the species that are targeted, the advantages and disadvantages of this fishing method, and the potential impacts on the marine ecosystem.

The Process of Midwater Trawling

Midwater trawling involves the use of a specialized fishing net called a trawl net, which is designed to target fish that swim in the middle depths of the ocean. The trawl net is typically cone-shaped, with a wide mouth opening that tapers down to a smaller end called the codend. The codend is designed to retain the captured fish while allowing water to flow out of the net.

To perform midwater trawling, a fishing vessel deploys the trawl net into the water and tows it behind the vessel at a specific depth. The net is kept open by floats at the top and weights at the bottom, ensuring that it remains in the desired position in the water column. As the vessel moves forward, the trawl net scoops up the pelagic fish swimming in its path.

Once a sufficient amount of fish has been caught, the net is hauled back on board the vessel. The codend is emptied, and the catch is sorted and stored for further processing or preservation. Non-target species and bycatch are usually discarded back into the ocean, but efforts are being made to reduce bycatch and promote sustainable fishing practices.

Targeted Species

Midwater trawling primarily targets pelagic fish that inhabit the middle depths of the ocean. Some of the commonly targeted species include anchovies, shrimp, tuna, mackerel, and various species of small pelagic fish. These fish are sought after for their commercial value and are used in a wide range of seafood products.

Advantages of Midwater Trawling

1. Less Harmful to the Seabed: Unlike bottom trawling, which can cause significant damage to the seafloor and benthic habitats, midwater trawling has a lower impact on the seabed. This is because the trawl net is not in direct contact with the ocean floor, reducing the risk of habitat destruction and disruption to marine ecosystems.

2. Efficient Catching Method: Midwater trawling can cover a large area and catch a significant amount of fish in a single haul. This makes it an efficient and productive fishing method for targeting pelagic fish populations. The use of echo sounders and other technological advancements has further improved the accuracy and efficiency of midwater trawling.

3. Economic Benefits: Midwater trawling supports the fishing industry by providing a consistent supply of pelagic fish to meet the demand for seafood products. The commercial value of these fish contributes to the local economies of fishing communities and supports livelihoods within the industry.

Disadvantages and Concerns of Midwater Trawling

1. Bycatch: One of the main concerns associated with midwater trawling is the incidental catch of non-target species, known as bycatch. While efforts are made to minimize bycatch, it is inevitable that some non-target species, including juveniles and non-commercial species, will be caught in the trawl net. This can have negative impacts on ecosystem dynamics and pose threats to the survival of certain species.

2. Impact on Ecosystems: Midwater trawling can disrupt the natural balance of marine ecosystems by removing large quantities of fish from the middle depths of the ocean. Pelagic fish play important roles in marine food chains and ecosystems, and their removal can have cascading effects on predator-prey relationships and other ecological processes.

3. Potential Overfishing: If not managed properly, midwater trawling can contribute to overfishing of pelagic fish populations. Overfishing occurs when the rate of fish removal exceeds the population’s ability to replenish itself. This can lead to depleted fish stocks, ecosystem imbalances, and negative socio-economic impacts on fishing communities.

4. Lack of Data: There is a lack of comprehensive data on the impacts of midwater trawling, including accurate estimates of bycatch and the abundance of targeted species. This makes it challenging to assess and manage the sustainability of midwater trawling operations.

Sustainable Practices and Regulations

To address the concerns associated with midwater trawling, there have been efforts to implement sustainable fishing practices and regulations. These measures aim to minimize bycatch, protect non-target species, and ensure the long-term sustainability of pelagic fish populations.

Some of the sustainable practices and regulations include:

1. Selective Trawling: The use of selective trawl nets and gear modifications can help reduce bycatch and improve the selectivity of midwater trawling. By using nets with larger mesh sizes, smaller fish can escape the net, reducing the likelihood of catching juveniles and non-target species.

2. Bycatch Reduction Devices (BRDs): Bycatch reduction devices, such as escape panels or grids, can be added to the trawl net to allow non-target species to escape. These devices have been shown to significantly reduce the amount of bycatch in midwater trawling operations.

3. Fishing Moratoriums and Quotas: To prevent overfishing, fishing moratoriums and quotas can be implemented to regulate the amount of fish that can be caught. These measures are often based on scientific assessments of fish stocks and aim to ensure sustainable fishing practices.

4. Ecosystem-Based Fisheries Management: Taking an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management can help mitigate the impacts of midwater trawling on marine ecosystems. This involves considering the broader ecological context and incorporating ecosystem dynamics and interactions into fisheries management strategies.


Midwater trawling is a fishing method used to catch pelagic fish that inhabit the middle depths of the ocean. While it is less harmful to the seabed compared to bottom trawling, it is associated with the incidental catch of non-target species. The sustainable management of midwater trawling is crucial to minimize its negative impacts on marine ecosystems and maintain the long-term viability of pelagic fish populations. By implementing selective fishing practices, reducing bycatch, and using ecosystem-based fisheries management approaches, it is possible to achieve sustainable midwater trawling practices that support the fishing industry while conserving marine biodiversity.

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