The Two Main Categories: Passive vs. Active Fishing Gear

Fishing Gear: Exploring the Distinctions between Passive and Active Methods


Fishing is an age-old practice that has been essential for feeding communities and sustaining economies around the world. Over the years, various fishing methods and gear have been developed to increase efficiency and improve catch rates. Fishing gear can generally be classified into two main categories: passive gear and active gear. In this article, we will explore the characteristics, uses, and implications of both passive and active fishing gear.

Passive Fishing Gear:

Passive fishing gear refers to equipment that is left in place for a certain period of time before being retrieved. This category of gear does not require constant movement or action by the fisher. Instead, it is designed to attract and capture fish through means such as entanglement or containment. Some common examples of passive fishing gear include nets, traps, and longlines.


Nets are widely used in passive fishing methods. They are typically made of strong, flexible materials and are designed to be set in water in strategic locations where fish are known to gather. The mesh size of the net is determined by the target species and desired catch size. When fish swim into the net, they become entangled, allowing the fishers to haul in the net and retrieve the catch. Gillnets, trammel nets, and seine nets are popular types of fishing nets used in passive fishing.


Fishing traps are another form of passive gear commonly used in both commercial and recreational fishing. Traps are typically made of cages or boxes with openings that allow fish to enter but make it difficult for them to escape. These traps are set in specific locations, such as the seabed or the bottom of a river, and fish are attracted to them through bait or natural curiosity. Once fish enter the trap, they are unable to find their way out, leading to easy retrieval by the fishers.


Longlines are passive fishing gear that consists of a main fishing line with numerous baited hooks attached at intervals. These lines can stretch for several miles and are typically set at specific depths or locations to target specific species. Longlines are widely used in commercial fishing, particularly for pelagic species such as tuna and swordfish. Once the longline has been set and given enough time for fish to take the bait, it is retrieved, and the catch is assessed.

Active Fishing Gear:

Active fishing gear, as the name suggests, requires manual action or movement by the fisher to chase, capture, or attract fish. This category of gear is often more labor-intensive and involves direct engagement with the fish. Active fishing gear is commonly used in both commercial and recreational fishing and includes methods such as trolling, jigging, and spearing.


Trolling is a popular method of active fishing that involves pulling a fishing line behind a moving boat. The lure or baited hook is dragged through the water, imitating the movement of prey fish and attracting predator species. Trolling is often used in open waters and is effective for targeting pelagic fish such as salmon, mackerel, and marlin.


Jigging is a fishing method that involves using a weighted lure, known as a jig, which is moved up and down in the water to attract fish. This motion mimics the movement of injured or dying prey fish, making it irresistible to predatory species. Jigging is commonly used in both saltwater and freshwater environments and is particularly effective for catching species that feed close to the bottom, such as cod, grouper, and snapper.


Spearing or harpooning is an ancient and traditional method of active fishing. It involves using a sharp-pointed instrument, such as a spear or harpoon, to impale fish directly. This method requires skilled accuracy and is often used in shallow waters or when targeting larger fish species. Spearfishing is practiced worldwide for both subsistence and recreational purposes.

Comparison and Implications:

Both passive and active fishing gear have their advantages and disadvantages, as well as different ecological and economic implications.

1. Efficiency: Active fishing gear is generally considered more efficient in terms of catch rates and targeting specific species. Active methods require the fishers to actively pursue and engage the fish, increasing their chances of success. Passive gear, on the other hand, relies on the fish’s natural movements and behavior, which may result in a lower catch rate.

2. Selectivity: Passive gear can be more selective in catching desired species while minimizing bycatch or the capture of non-target species. For example, gillnets can be designed with specific mesh sizes to target certain fish sizes, while allowing smaller or non-targeted fish to escape. Active gear, such as trawling, often results in higher levels of bycatch due to the indiscriminate nature of the method.

3. Environmental Impact: Active fishing methods, particularly those that involve large-scale operations like trawling, can have a significant environmental impact. These methods can cause habitat destruction and damage to the seabed, resulting in long-term ecological consequences. Passive gear, if used responsibly, can have a lower impact on the environment as it does not involve extensive dragging or disturbance of the seabed.

4. Cost and Labor: Active fishing gear generally requires more investment in equipment, boats, and fuel consumption. The constant movement and action involved in active fishing methods also require more physical labor. Passive gear, on the other hand, may require less initial investment and can be left unattended for periods, reducing labor requirements.

5. Sustainability: The sustainability of fishing methods is a crucial consideration in today’s context of overfishing and declining fish stocks. Both passive and active fishing gear can be sustainable if used responsibly and in accordance with local regulations and quotas. It is essential to adopt practices that minimize harm to the marine ecosystem and ensure the long-term viability of fish stocks.


Passive and active fishing gear are two distinct categories with their own characteristics, uses, and implications. Passive gear relies on the natural behavior of fish and requires little intervention by fishers, while active gear involves direct engagement and movement to attract and capture fish. Both types of gear have their advantages and disadvantages, and the choice between them depends on factors such as target species, catch rates, selectivity, and environmental impact. It is important for fishers, policymakers, and researchers to consider the implications of different fishing gear types to ensure sustainable and responsible fishing practices.

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