Commercial Fishing

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Fishing, Commercial


the branch of the fishing industry that involves the recovery of valuable natural resources from oceans, seas, lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. These resources include numerous species of fish (constituting approximately 90 percent of the catch), mollusks, crustaceans, marine mammals, and aquatic vegetation.

Fishing is one of the oldest forms of human economic activity. It was initially very primitive, as were all early forms of gathering the available resources of nature. Food-gathering people collected fish thrown onto the shores by the surf or after ebb tide, or caught the fish with their hands. Ethnographers know of no tribes that were unacquainted with fishing. The development of fishing can be clearly traced in archaeological remains back to the Upper Paleolithic (finds of primitive bone hooks and harpoons). Fishing was particularly characteristic of the Magdalenian culture. Its subsequent development and differentiation into a separate sector of economic activity may be observed in the archaeological cultures of the Neolithic. For many tribes fishing was the principal method of obtaining food (for example, certain Indian tribes in the northwestern part of North America). However, fishing was never the sole economic activity; it was usually combined with gathering, hunting, and crop cultivation. Among stock-raising tribes fishing did not play a significant role.

The early forms, methods, and equipment of fishing were extremely diverse, representing virtually all presently known methods of noncommercial fishing: for example, the use of weirs, nets, baskets, and fishing rods. With the rise of trade and exchange, fishing gradually assumed the form of a trade among many peoples, and recently it has acquired an industrial character.

In the period 1970–73, the annual world catch totaled 70 million tons. The principal part of the total catch is obtained from sea and ocean fishing (around 90 percent in the USSR). Sea and ocean fishing is carried out chiefly in the most biologically productive waters of the continental shelf, which, in occupying 7.6 percent of the world ocean, provide approximately 90 percent of the catch. Pelagic fishing has also developed in areas of the continental slope, far offshore at depths to 1,500 m and greater. Until the mid-1950’s, more than 80 percent of the catch was from the northern zone of the world ocean (north of 30° N. lat.). By the mid-1970’s, 60 percent of the catch came from the tropical regions and the southern hemisphere. The harvest of pelagic fishes has continuously increased, equaling in 1973 approximately 75 percent of all sea catches. The possibility of obtaining animal protein more rapidly and cheaply than in livestock raising accounts for the rapid growth of fishing throughout the world.

The fishing fleet is the basis of the fishing industry. Shore facilities include ports, enterprises manufacturing fishing gear, and ship repair enterprises.

The most widely used method of fishing is trawling. Its high productivity, maneuverability, and good economic characteristics make its use suitable not only in oceans but also in inland waters. Methods of fishing with bottom trawls are being developed, with the goal of increasing the area of the existing trawling regions.

Special vessels (seiners and trawler seiners) have been built for catching moving pelagic fishes in the open areas of the ocean with purse seines. Mounted and deck seine setting and lifting devices have been developed, as have submergible fish pumps for lifting the fish from the seines to the vessel and instruments for detecting schools of fish and recording the submersion depth of the lead line. Purse seines may also be used for catching sparse schools of fish beyond the continental shelf.

Drift fishing is used mainly for rapidly moving schools of fish of medium or low concentration. The efficiency of this method of fishing is raised by means of sonar devices and full mechanization of labor. Drifting and bottom longline fishing is successful for catching low concentrations of fish and in regions where other fishing methods cannot be employed for any of various reasons. The most valuable species of large fishes, for example, tuna, halibut, and salmon, are caught mainly with longlines.

Light, electric current, and chemicals are used for concentrating fish within a limited area and for increasing the effectiveness of traditional fishing gear. In 1970, for example, light fishing yielded approximately 15 million quintals of fish and mollusks in Japan and approximately 4 million quintals in the USSR (mainly in the Caspian Sea).

Fishing gear is made from synthetic material, such as Kapron, nylon, dacron, or polypropylene. The nets are usually covered by a filmy material that increases their strength and service life.

In the USSR netless commercial fishing gear was used successfully for the first time in the world. Fish pumps are used for catching the Caspian sprat, schools of which are attracted through the use of electric light. Using fish pumps together with traditional fishing gear (trawl, seine) has made it possible to develop continuous-action hydraulic mechanized equipment. In a number of countries the development of electrified trawls is under way. In 1970, 67.3 percent of the fish caught in the USSR were obtained by trawling, 9.1 percent by purse seining, 6 percent by light fishing, 1.5 percent by drift netting, and 16.1 percent by other methods.

With the introduction of the new fishing methods and gear, shipbuilding for commercial fishing has also developed. For example, the commercial fishing fleet of the USSR has been increased by large vessels, including twin-hulled catamarans equipped with several types of fishing gear. In equipping the fishing vessels particular attention has been given to winches for bringing in and paying out cable, machines for folding nets, and devices for freeing the gear from the fish. Two basic forms of organization are employed in sea fishing: autonomous, in which the vessels deliver the fish to the ports, and expeditionary, in which the fish is transported by mother ships. In the USSR fishing is being developed on the basis of the long- and short-term fishing forecasts that are compiled by the basin research institutes for fishing and oceanography and by the administrations of fishing survey, which have their own specialized fleet equipped with various fishing gear and scientific equipment.

On inland freshwaters, which constitute the main sources of fresh and refrigerated fish, pound nets, drift nets, drag seines, fish traps, and hook-type fishing gear are used. To increase the catch, fishery reclamative work is carried out, and measures are implemented for artificially replenishing fish stocks and for acclimatizing new fish species. Labor productivity in fishing, which is evaluated by the annual fish catch per fisherman, ranges from 70 to 2,000 quintals. Analysis of the fishing conditions indicates that the effort expended for a unit of catch is continuously increasing. The growth rate of the cost of fishing equipment has outstripped the growth rate of the catch itself, necessitating greater efficiency of catching techniques.

Unlimited development of fishing can negatively affect valuable natural resources. For this reason, correlation of the actual quantitative indicators of fishing with the indicators for the rational use of the ocean’s biological reserves is of vital international significance. The Soviet scientist F. I. Baranov was the first to employ mathematical methods to evaluate the stocks quantitatively. He thus determined the ecological impact of fishing on the natural resources. Fishing in the open sea is regulated by international agreements (seeMARITIME LAW).

In the USSR, fishing is regulated by the Statute for the Protection of Fish Stocks and the Regulation of Fishing in Soviet Waters, which was approved by a decree issued by the Council of Ministers of the USSR on Sept. 15, 1958 (Collection of USSR Decrees, 1958, no. 16, art. 127). There are also regulations for fishing in specific basins. The regulations define the place and seasons for catching various fish species. They also designate acceptable methods of fishing, taking into consideration spawning periods and grounds.

Commercial fishing is carried out by state procurement enterprises, fishing kolkhozes, and consumer cooperative enterprises. Fishing areas are provided to them gratis for indefinite periods of time. Fishing for personal consumption is permitted in all bodies of water (except sanctuaries, fish nurseries, and fish-farms), but established fishing regulations must be observed. (For a discussion of the development of commercial fishing in the USSR, seeFISHING INDUSTRY.)


Baranov, F. I. Izbr. trudy, vols. 1–3. Moscow, 1969–71.
Fridman, A. L. Teoriia i proektirovanie orudii promyshlennogo rybolovstva. Moscow, 1969.
Voinikanis-Mirskii, V. N. Tekhnologiia postroiki orudii promyshlennogo rybolovstva. Moscow, 1971.
Lukashov, V. N. Ustroistvo i ekspluatatsiia orudiy promyshlennogo rybolovstva. Moscow, 1972.
Iudovich, Iu. B. Promyslovaia razvedka ryby, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1974.


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