Alaska Longliner - Alan SorumAlaska longline fishing boats or longliners are responsible for bringing some of the most popular seafood in the United States to market. Longliners are named after the fishing gear that they deploy to target Pacific halibut and Black cod or sablefish.

The fishing gear used by longliners is normally composed of 100 fathom (600 foot or 183 meter) lengths of sinking hard laid line that contains a lead core or wire called groundline. The groundline has an anchor and a float attached at its ends. Up to 100 baited hooks are attached to the groundline at regular intervals with short leaders or gangions. Some fishermen use steel snaps to attach the hooks to the groundline. Bait used can be herring or pieces of octopus. Each of these completed gear assemblies is known as a skate. Each skate or series of skates attached to each other launched from the boat is called a set.

Once the set has soaked or been fished in the water for periods of up to a day, it is retrieved with a deck mounted hydraulic winch. Fish brought onboard are cleaned and cooled immediately before they are brought to market, which insures quality and freshness.

Capture of Non-Target Species

Bycatch is a term used to describe the capture of untargeted fish species. It turns out that longlining is a fairly conservative fishing method in regards to preventing bycatch. Since each fish is handled individually as it is brought aboard, non-target species can be released unharmed by the fisherman. Compared to floating nets, very little longline gear is lost each year and it does not keep fishing like the ghost nets seen in the North Pacific.

One problem seen in Alaska’s longline fishery is the capture of endangered seabirds like the short-tailed albatross. The birds learn that there is an easy meal attached to each longline hook and some become entangled in the fishing gear as it is deployed. There are many tactics used to prevent hooking seabirds attracted to the baited fishhooks. These can include setting fishing gear at night, using colored streamers attached to the groundline, using large tubes to place fishing gear directly into the water and spraying water on the groundline as it is played out.

Longline Vessel Types

The size of longline boats is mostly related to the distance from shore that they fish. Smaller vessels are well suited to fishing in sheltered waters, while purpose built boats over 65 feet in length work in the Gulf of Alaska. Longline boats can be identified by their large open work decks, slides or chutes astern for deploying gear, hydraulic line pullers mounted on deck and houses or shelters to help protect the crew in foul weather. Many Alaska purse seine vessels serve double duty as longliners since many of their owners hold Black cod or Halibut catch quotas.

The identification of different Alaskan commercial fishing boats can make the next trip to the harbor or on the water a more enjoyable experience.

Copyright © 2013 by Alan Sorum

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