Wild-caught fish

Last updated 25 September 2020

It is estimated that as many as 2.74 trillion fish are caught and killed every year. To put this into perspective, that is nearly the same amount of fish being caught and killed every day as there are people on the planet.

This figure fails to include fish that are caught illegally, unintended species that are caught as ‘by-catch’ and either discarded or used as fish feed on fish farms, and other undocumented fishing.

If fishing continues at the rate it is currently, we are facing the very real possibility of fishless oceans by the year 2050.

Being caught on hooks or in large nets is an extremely traumatic experience for fish, who are known to warn each other of impending danger.

Net fishing 

Fish caught in a commercial fishing net. Source: Guardian

In net fishing, fish are pulled tightly together in close confinement. When out of water, fish are unable to breathe or see anything going on around them as they are surrounded by thousands of other fish. These fish commonly die slowly due to asphyxiation. Around 80% of fish are caught in nets. There are a number of nets used:

Purse Seine Nets

The most commonly practised method of fishing is characterised by a boat locating a large school of fish, and using a crane to surround the school with a net. The ends of the net are synched together like a drawstring bag and pulled aboard with the fish inside. 

The FADS mentioned in this video are used in 70% of tuna fishing. This netting is also commonly used to catch salmon and tuna. The nets used can be as long as 1.5km and  150m deep. These nets can capture a whopping 1,500 tonnes of fish. To put that into perspective, just one net can capture as many as 43,400 skipjack tuna or up to 8,500 fully grown yellowfin tuna for slaughter.

Trawling nets

Trawling nets involve towing the net on a moving boat for long distances, until it is full of fish.  

In this video you can see first hand the sheer scale of the trawling nets. Fish are pulled aboard and emptied out into a large empty space, hitting the bars and walls as they go down. In the video you can see fish as they struggle to breathe. 

Bottom trawling

Bottom trawling involves dragging heavy, weighted nets across the ocean floor, capturing sea life in its path. This method is commonly used to catch squid, prawns, flat head, and other sea animals. This form of fishing is arguably the most destructive to the environment too. 

Bottom trawling. Source: Greenpeace

Squid, as well as octopus and cuttlefish, are a breed of cephalopod, who are recognised to be highly complex and intelligent.

Gill nets

Gill nets stretch across several kilometers and are invisible to fish. Fish become trapped when they swim into the nets; when they try to escape, they become caught by their fins, gills and spines. This is an extremely traumatic experience for fish who often injure themselves further as they try desperately to escape.

How gill nets work. Source: Marine Stewardship Council

Gill and trammel (a similar kind of) nets are the most commonly used fishing gear. These are used to catch gummy and saw sharks (‘flake’ fish) in Australia and many other nations around the world.

These nets are non-discriminate and consequently catch unintended species of sharks and other marine animals, known as by-catch.


Longlines are used to catch a number of different species, depending on the depths in which they are placed. Swordfish, blue cod, gummy shark and tuna are all species that are targeted by this fishing method, as well as many others.  

How long-lines work. Source: Marine Stewardship Council

Longlines can stretch across 130kms with as many as 40,000 hooks attached to it. They are left in the water for hours at a time before they are pulled back into boats, which means animals caught on the hooks may spend hours, stressed, trying desperately to escape.

Fish will be killed by either asphyxiation once they are pulled from their ocean home, or bleeding out after being decapitated, sliced open or gutted.


In order to get larger fish onto the boat from a longline, they are impaled with a gaff hook. Put simply, they are stabbed whilst they are fully conscious.