AskDefine | Define trawl

Dictionary Definition



1 a long fishing line with many shorter lines and hooks attached to it (usually suspended between buoys) [syn: trawl line, spiller, setline, trotline]
2 a conical fishnet dragged through the water at great depths [syn: dragnet, trawl net] v : fish with trawlers

User Contributed Dictionary





  1. A net used for trawling.
  2. A long fishing line having many short lines bearing hooks attached to it; a setline.


  1. To take fish, or other marine animals, with a trawl.
  2. To fish from a slow moving boat.
  3. To make an exhaustive search for something within a defined area.


Extensive Definition

Trawling is a method of fishing that involves actively pulling a large fishing net through the water behind one or more boats. The net that is used for trawling is called a trawl.
The boats that are used for trawling are called trawlers. Trawlers vary in size; from small open boats with only 30 hp to large factory trawlers with over 10,000 hp. Trawling can be carried out by one trawler or by two trawlers fishing cooperatively (pair trawling).
Trawling can be contrasted with trolling, where baited fishing lines are drawn through the water instead of trawls. Trolling is used both for recreational and commercial fishing whereas trawling is used mainly for commercial fishing.

Bottom versus midwater trawling

Trawling can be divided into bottom trawling and midwater trawling, depending on how high the trawl (net) is in the water column. Bottom trawling is towing the trawl along or close to the sea floor. Midwater trawling is towing the trawl through free water away from the bottom of the ocean.
The scientific community divides bottom trawling into benthic trawling and demersal trawling. Benthic trawling is dragging the trawl along the very bottom of the ocean and demersal trawling is towing the trawl just above the benthic zone.
Midwater trawling is also known as pelagic trawling. Midwater trawling catches pelagic fish such as anchovies, shrimp, tuna and mackerel, whereas bottom trawling targets both bottom living fish (groundfish) and semi-pelagic fish such as cod, squid, halibut and rockfish.
Bottom trawling can leave serious incidental damage to the sea bottom in its trail; by contrast midwater trawling is relatively benign.

Net structure

Although trawling today is heavily regulated in some nations, it remains the target of many protests by environmentalists. Environmental concerns related to trawling refer to two areas: a perceived lack of selectivity and the physical damage which the trawl does to the seabed.


Reports of the lack of selectivity of trawling have been present since it started (about the 1600s) and it became used more widely (about 1900). Trawl nets may be non-selective, sweeping up both marketable and undesirable fish and fish of both legal and illegal size. Any part of the catch which cannot be used is considered as by-catch some of which is killed accidentally by the trawling process.
Size selectivity is controlled by the mesh size of the "cod-end" - the part of the trawl where fish are retained. Fishermen complain that a mesh size which allows undersized fish to escape also allows a proportion of legal-landing sized fish to escape as well. There are a number of "fixes", such as tying a rope around the "cod-end" to prevent the mesh from opening fully, which have been developed to work around technical regulation of size selectivity. One problem is when the mesh gets pulled into narrow diamond shapes (rhombuses) instead of squares.
The capture of undesirable species is a recognized problem with all fishing methods and unites environmentalists, who do not want to see fish killed needlessly, and fishermen, who do not want to waste their time sorting marketed fish from their catch. A number of methods to minimize this have been developed for use in trawling. Bycatch reduction grids or square mesh panels of net can be fitted to parts of the trawl, allowing certain species to escape while retaining others. Trawling for shrimps has specifically been cited as having high levels of bycatch in various parts of the world.

Ecological damage

thumb|right|upright|Trawl net with fish Trawling is an environmentally disputed fishing technique. Bottom trawling can cause significant damage to the seafloor; coral shattering, boulders being dragged along the seafloor causing damage to habitats and removal of seaweed can all be unintentional side-effects of trawling. Because bottom trawling involves towing heavy fishing gear over the seabed it can cause large scale destruction on the ocean bottom.
The primary sources of impact are the doors, which can weigh several tonnes and create furrows if dragged along the bottom, and the footrope configuration, which usually remains in contact with the bottom across the entire lower edge of the net. Depending on the configuration, the footrope may turn over large rocks or boulders, disturb or damage sessile organisms or rework and re-suspend bottom sediments. Published research has shown that benthic trawling destroys the cold-water coral Lophelia pertusa, an important habitat for many deep-sea organisms.
The primary focus of dispute over the impact of trawl gear is on the magnitude and duration of these impacts. Opponents of trawl gear argue that the impact of trawl nets is widespread, intense and long-lasting. Defenders of trawl gear maintain that impact is mostly limited and of low intensity compared to natural events. However, it should be noted that most areas with significant natural sea bottom disturbance events are in relatively shallow water. In mid to deep waters, bottoms trawlers are the only significant area wide events and the destruction has been viewed as clear-cutting the bottom. These impacts result in decreases in species diversity and ecological changes towards more opportunistic organisms.
Bottom trawling on soft bottoms also stirs up bottom sediments and puts a huge load of suspended solids into the water column. The magnitude of the problem can be visualized by noting that one bottom trawler put more than 10 times the amount of suspended solids pollution per hour into the water column than all the suspended solids pollution from all the sewerage, industrial, river and dredge disposal operations in Southern California combined. These turbidity plumes can be seen on Google Earth in areas where they have some high resolution offshore photos (see Bottom trawling for an example). When the turbidity plumes from bottom trawlers are below a thermocline, you may not have a surface impact but can still create less visible impacts such as persistent organic pollutant transfer into the pelagic food chain. Midwater (pelagic) trawling is a much "cleaner" method of fishing, in that the catch usually consists of just one species and does not physically damage the sea bottom.
Bycatch of non-target species, including dolphins, sea turtles, sharks, and others is a particular problem with most trawling.

Other uses of the word "trawl"

The noun "trawl" has many possibly confusing meanings in commercial fisheries. For example, two or more lobster pots that are fished together may be referred to as a trawl. In some older usages "trawling" meant "long-line fishing"; that usage occurs in Rudyard Kipling's book Captains Courageous. (This use is perhaps confused with trolling, where a baited line is trailed behind a boat)
The word "trawling" has come to be used in a number of non-fishing contexts, usually meaning indiscriminate collection with the intent of picking out the useful bits. For instance, in law enforcement it may refer to collecting large records of telephone calls hoping to find calls made by suspects. The word "trawling" occurs frequently in general literature and is used to mean searching through literature for information more often than it means catching fish.



  • Clover, Charles. 2004. The End of the Line: How overfishing is changing the world and what we eat. Ebury Press, London. ISBN 0-09-189780-7
  • March, E. J. (1953). Sailing Trawlers: The Story of Deep-Sea Fishing with Long Line and Trawl. Percival Marshal and Company. Reprinted by Charles & David, 1970, Newton Abbot, UK. ISBN 071534711X
trawl in Bulgarian: Тралене
trawl in German: Schleppnetzfischerei
trawl in Italian: Pesca a strascico
trawl in Japanese: トロール網
trawl in Norwegian: Trål
trawl in Portuguese: Rede de arrasto
trawl in Russian: Трал
trawl in Finnish: Troolaus
trawl in Swedish: Trål
trawl in Turkish: Trol

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

angle, bait, bait the hook, birdlime, bob, bola, clam, cobweb, dap, dib, dibble, drag, draggle, dragnet, draw, drive, fish, fishhook, fly, fly-fish, gig, gill net, go fishing, grig, ground bait, guddle, hale, haul, heave, hook, jack, jacklight, jig, lariat, lasso, lime, lug, lure, meshes, net, noose, plug, pound net, pull, purse seine, seine, shrimp, snake, snare, sniggle, spin, spinner, springe, squid, still-fish, take in tow, toils, torch, tow, trail, train, troll, tug, whale, wobbler
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