Cape Cod fishermen use a variety of techniques to catch fish. Since the gear itself represents a significant investment, and experience makes a difference, most fishermen specialize somewhat. At the same time, as fishermen work to diversify what they catch, there is increasing interest in being adaptable—in terms of skills and gear.
Small-boat gillnets are monofilament mesh nets about 100 yards long and 10 feet high. A weighted line rests on the seabed and the net floats upright thanks to buoys at either end. The art of gillnetting involves setting the net strategically, letting it soak to catch the fish (by the gills), then hauling it in and removing the fish in quick succession. Skate, monkfish, dogfish and groundfish, such as cod and pollock, are most often caught in gillnets.
A mobile type of gear, an otter trawl is a funnel-shaped net towed behind a fishing vessel. "Otter" refers to the boards designed to keep the mouth of the net open. The speed of the trawl through the water gathers fish into the tail of the net, known as the “cod end.” Mesh size requirements and escape vents help protect smaller fish and turtles from being caught by accident. Otter trawling is used by fishermen targeting flounder and other groundfish.
Because scallops live on the sea floor, fishermen tow a metal dredge along the sandy bottom to harvest them—as the dredge passes, the scallops are swept up in a “net” made of steel rings which is designed to allow smaller scallops to slip through. Fishermen then winch up the dredge, dump it on deck and hand-pick the live scallops from it.
Historians say the wooden lath and rope mesh lobster trap (also called a lobster "pot") was invented in Cape Cod in the early 1800s, and the basic design—a baited box with a one-way entrance—is still in use, but most are made of wire now. Fishermen drop their traps onto the sea floor, then return to check them daily. They are marked by buoys at the end of "breakaway" lines designed to prevent marine mammals from being entangled. Small “vents” in the traps allow juvenile lobsters to escape. Similar pots are used to catch conch (channeled whelk) and black sea bass.
Hook and Line
Many local fishermen call this "tub trawling" because the lines used to be carefully coiled onboard in tubs. Though some use the term "longline," the method is not to be confused with industrial-scale pelagic longlining—our small-boat fishermen set baited hooks on a quarter-mile line. Buoys at either end connect to weighted lines that rest on the sea floor. Cod and haddock, and sometimes hake, were historically caught in this way. Dogfish are also caught using hook and line gear and account for most of the longline landings today. Another version of hook fishing is called jigging. Fishermen give quick tugs with a rod and reel to catch pollock, flounder, fluke and other groundfish.