Everything You Need to Know About Fishing Vessels

Aug 11, 2022 · 13 mins read ·

Shipping & Vessels
fishing vessel at sunset

We all know that a fishing vessel is a boat that is used to catch fish, whether that’s on the sea, a lake or a river. It goes without saying that fishing boats vary in size and complexity, but what you might not know is that they can be broken down into a number of main categories and then subcategories.

Commercial fishing vessels are also categorized as part of the merchant fleet, as just like cargo and container ships, car carriers, bulk carriers, oil tankers, passenger ferries and gas carriers they work for a living.

But now, if you’ve ever wanted to know more about fishing vessels, here’s your chance!

Everything You Need to Know About Fishing Vessels

To start with, fishing vessels can be split into three main types depending on their purpose. These are:

  1. Commercial fishing vessels
  2. Artisanal fishing vessels
  3. Recreational fishing vessels

And they can also be classified depending on their size or length:

  • Small: Small fishing vessels operate in freshwater
  • Medium: Medium sized fishing vessels operate in Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ)
  • Large: Large fishing vessels operate on the ocean

And they can also be broken down into subcategories depending on the type of gear onboard that is used to catch fish and seafood. These are:

  • Trawlers
  • Dredgers
  • Seiners
  • Trap Setters
  • Gillnetters
  • Lift Netters
  • Liners
  • Vessels that Use Pumps

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The history of the fishing vessel

The act of fishing as a source for food has been around for almost as long as humans, and needless to say once vessels started to be used for fishing, the design changed radically over the years.


The earliest known watercraft were, of course, very basic and were used for everything from transportation and exploration to war. The biggest advancement in the burgeoning fishing industry was when the Dutch invented the herring drifter in the 15th century.

This became the basis on which European fishing boats were subsequently built for some time, with the British developing the dogger - a predecessor of the trawler - in the 17th century.

The trawler as we now more or less know it was also a British development, seeing the light of day in the 19th century.

It wasn’t long after this that the advent of steam for use as a means of propulsion was applied to trawlers, rapidly changing the face of fishing across the globe.

Read more: Everything You Need to Know About Feeder Vessels

With more than just manpower behind the wheel, the steam trawlers could be built to a bigger spec and could therefore carry more nets and bigger catches, and travel further and faster.

Turbines and diesel engines were not far behind, propelling the fishing industry to new heights.

Now let’s take a closer look at the subcategories of fishing vessels, starting with fishing boats broken down into purpose.

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Categories of fishing vessels according to purpose

Commercial fishing vessels

A commercial fishing vessel is a mid- to large size boat that is used to catch fish and other seafood for wholesale selling on a large scale.

These types of vessels are able to operate far from shore in deep water, even in rough seas and inclement weather. Commercial fishing vessels are governed by IMO regulations regarding the design of the boat, its size, and the equipment it uses.

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Artisanal fishing vessels

Also known as subsistence fishing, this is the term given to boats that are used to catch fish for wholesale to local markets and restaurants. The boats are small to medium sized and may or may not have an engine.


Recreational fishing vessels

As the name suggests, recreational fishing vessels are boats that individuals or small groups of people use to catch fish as a sport or hobby.

The fish are usually released back into the water or perhaps taken home to eat, but they won’t be sold for commercial purposes. These boats are on the small to medium sized end of the scale.

Read more: Everything You Need to Know About Tugboats

Now we’ve got the three different categories of fishing vessel, let’s break them down into actual types. We’re going to focus on commercial fishing vessels as these come in many different shapes and sizes, whilst artisanal and recreational fishing boats are not part of the merchant fleet.

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Different types of commercial fishing vessels


The most commonly used type of commercial fishing boat, the trawler is used across the globe and uses cone-shaped or funnel trawls (nets) to catch fish. They are equipped with mechanical devices called trawl winches which are used to haul the net over the side or stern of the boat and on board.

Trawlers need to have powerful engines to give them the ability to tow nets full of their catch over long distances.

There are also different types of trawlers:

  • Stern trawlers: A large, powerful boat that hauls the trawl nets over the stern using trawl winches and net drums. The handling and processing of the catch is often done onboard.
  • Side trawlers: As the name suggests, the trawl nets are hauled over the side of the boat, normally using trawl winches. Side trawlers are now less popular than stern trawlers.
  • Factory trawlers: These large boats have a processing facility onboard and can process the fish into filets or mince onboard.
  • Freezer trawlers: These boats have refrigeration facilities for storing the fish in until the boat reaches land.
  • Wet-fish trawlers: These boats operate closer to the shore as they do not have refrigeration facilities and instead keep the freshly caught fish in ice or in the insulated hold of the boat.
  • Outrigger trawlers: Also known as beam trawlers thanks to the two nets which are towed by the booms that extend from either side of the boat, these are used mostly for catching shrimp.

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Lift netters

A lift netter has large trawls which are held out from the side of the boat and raised and lowered using outriggers. The vessel is equipped with winches and derricks which lift these outriggers as well as the lines and booms.

Trap setters

Used to catch seafood such as crayfish, crabs and lobster, these vessels come with traps and pots to snare their catch which will then be stored in the hold. Larger trap setters will use davits or derricks to set and haul the pots.

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Seiners use a particular type of net called a seine net. These hang vertically in the water and have long wings and tow lines.

The top edges are buoyed by flats and the bottom part is held down by weights. Seiners catch pelagic fish - fish that swim in the water column, i.e. not close to the shore or the bottom of the seabed. Pelagic fish include sardines, herrings and tuna.


Dredgers are used for a number of different purposes including moving silt, recovery, construction, and in this case, fishing. Dredgers fish for mollusks such as oysters, clams and cockles. The dredge is lifted and lowered using winches and derricks and is towed along the bottom of the seabed.

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Liner fishing vessels use the traditional method of hook and line to catch fish. They may also employ bait, depending on the type of fish they are trying to catch.

They have a deck area which is used to attach the bait to the line and containers to store both the bait and the catch in. Liners can be broken down into a few different types:

  • Handliners: The line will be hauled manually or by a mechanical reel. The boats are usually smaller liners.
  • Longliners: Normally used for catching tuna, swordfish and halibut, these boats have extremely long lines which have a large amount of baited hooks on them. The line can be placed on the bottom of the seabed or on the surface.
  • Tuna longliners: These are equipped with brine-freezing tanks in which the tuna is preserved until it reaches shore. Tuna longliners are medium-sized vessels and the long lines and buoys are carried by a conveyor.
  • Pole and line vessels: Also known as live bait fishing, pole and line vessels are also used to catch tuna. These boats have tanks with live bait and a water spray system that attracts the fish. The fishermen stand either on a platform or on the railing and fish manually using poles that have lines and hooks attached.


Gill nets are vertical panels of netting that hang from a line with regularly spaced floaters. These floaters (also sometimes called corks) keep the line floating on the water’s surface.

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Gill nets are used by both commercial and artisanal fishing vessels. Depending on the size of the boat, gillnetters will either set and haul the net manually or mechanically. There are two types of gillnetter vessels:

  • Set netter vessels: The net is not attached to the boat whilst the fish are being caught,
  • Traditional gillnetter vessels: In these boats the net remains attached to the boat whilst  fishing.

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Vessels that use pumps

On these fishing vessels, pumps are suspended on a hook on an electrically-powered derrick and lowered into the water. A lamp is located on this pump, which attracts small fish.


These are then sucked into the pump and then pumped out onboard the vessel. The sea water is removed and the fish are stored until they reach port.

Read more: Everything You Need to Know About Offshore Vessels

So now that you know almost everything there is to know about fishing vessels, perhaps you’d like to check out some of our other blog posts about different types of boats and vessels.

We’ve covered everything from crane vessels to coaster vessels to cruise ships and pilot boats, so why not keep on exploring?!

Read the previous article in this series: Everything You Need to Know About Supramax Vessels

Read the next articles in this series: Everything You Need to Know About Ferries

Eve Church

Eve Church

Eve is Martide's content writer, publishing regular posts on everything from our maritime recruitment and crew planning software to life at sea. Eve has been writing professionally for more than two decades, crafting everything from SEO-focused blog posts and website landing pages to magazine articles and corporate whitepapers.


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