Catching fish using traps has been around as long as humans have been around. Mankind has always sought marine protein sources as a means to survive. Whether it be shore side sources such as clams or mussels, or other species that come to shore to spawn like herring or salmon, mankind has always sought to trap and catch their meals from the marine environment.
One of the earliest methods of trapping fish species was with the use of a fyked tunnel. Fyked tunnel basically means it is a converging entry. There are two basic types of fyked tunnels. One is a fixed netted arrangement that makes it unlikely the fish would backtrack once they pass through a number of these netted ‘funnels’. The other more important type of fyked tunnel was traditionally made with converging pieces of wood branches to create a one way funnel for the fish into a containment area called a trap. These same principles of trapping fish still apply today. It’s just the materials that have changed.
A new era in fish trapping began with the introduction of Neptune’s Cod Trigger. In 1988, Neptune Marine started selling their modern version of the fyked tunnel to crab fishermen looking to catch cod as bait for their crab pots. Crab fishermen would modify 10 or 15 of their crab pots into cod pots to catch cod for bait. This new cod catching method quickly evolved from a bait catching fishery into a new directed cod pot fishery. This ‘evolution’ took place over a period of maybe 3 years. One of the early regulations on the cod pot fishery was the required use of halibut excluders to keep halibut out of the cod pots. Vertical wire dividers every 9 inches keep all but the smallest halibut out of the pot. Those small halibut caught as bycatch, have a very low mortality rate as they are returned to the ocean immediately. The halibut excluders were also very effective in keeping crab out of the cod pots. All in all, the Alaska cod pot fishery is one of the ‘cleanest’ fisheries for any cod species in the world. In addition to the clean nature of the fishery, the fish are of the highest quality. It is common to put the live cod into RSW tanks prior to delivery. It is not uncommon to have swimming cod in the tanks when the Alaska cod pots deliver. Tough to find a fresher fish than a live one.
The original Neptune Cod Trigger has evolved into a multispecies, one way entrance device, that’s used around the world for a variety of species. The old fyke tunnel concept in trap fisheries has evolved once again with the use of Neptune Triggers. In addition to the use of the triggers, pot and trap designs have also been changing to create more effective gear. A number of years ago we made up an Atlantic Newsletter to offer trap building guidelines to fishermen on the East coast. These guidelines are still valid and apply to a number of finfish trap fisheries around the world. Capt. Neptune would like to offer it, in its entirety, dated as it is, because the content still provides good guidelines for trap designs in various worldwide trap fisheries.
Crab fishermen originally used Neptune equipped crab pots to catch cod for crab bait. It proved so effective in catching Pacific cod that a directed fishery developed
his new gear type proved to be very selective in the pursuit of cod without catching crab or halibut. The cod pot fishery also proved to be selective in catching mature fish through the use of web sizes that allowed smaller fish to escape. One of the other benefits that also became evident was the low bycatch mortality of unwanted species, or smaller animals, that happened to be hauled to the surface in the pot. Most are returned to the sea unharmed and in good condition. The benefits that became evident in the Alaska cod pot fishery might prove beneficial in various Atlantic fisheries as well. Hopefully the following information will help inform you about the options and possibilities for catching various fish species with pots.
TYPES OF FISH POTS
The cod pot fishery in Alaska developed around modifying the existing king and tanner crab pots already in use. These pots were usually around 7’ X 7’ X 3’ and would weigh 400-600 lb. These crab pots have two opposing tunnel ramps leading to horizontal mounted rectangular steel rod “tunnel eyes”. The tunnel eyes were mounted horizontal because of the shape of the crab being caught. To modify these crab pots into cod pots, fishermen would re-orient the horizontal tunnel eye so that it was perpendicular to the pot’s bottom and then attach Neptune Cod Triggers. This horizontal orientation of the tunnel also worked for cod and became the standard tunnel orientation used in Alaska.
Fishermen soon developed dedicated cod pots that were designed specifically for cod. These cod pots share common design components that apply to fish pots in other areas as well. Alaska fishermen also developed cod pot fishing methods that should be of interest to future Atlantic fish pot fishermen.
POT DESIGN CONSIDERATIONS AND FISHING METHODS
LARGE INTERNAL VOLUME POTS CREATE BETTER FISHING POTS – Evidence gathered worldwide from fishermen and researchers indicate that pots with large internal volumes caught more fish than smaller pots. The original Alaska crab/cod combination pot has a lot of internal volume taken up with the tunnel ramp for the crab. New dedicated cod pots have shallower leads creating more internal space. This allows more fish in the pot before saturation effects keep additional fish from entering. Fish pots in Alaska use a welded steel rod framework that uses stretched nylon netting as a covering. It is also possible to create large pots with the common wire mesh used in lobster traps.
MULTIPLE ENTRANCES WORK BEST – Most dedicated cod pots in Alaska now use cod triggers on 3 sides of the pot. Multiple entrances insure a better chance of fish entering the pot. Fish usually are attracted by the bait smell down current from the pot. With the direction of the current changing with the tide, it is best to have an entrance easily available to fish no matter which direction the current is coming from. Norwegian research confirms the benefits of multiple entrances in most fish pot designs as well.
USE PROPER WEB SIZE, OR ESCAPE VENTS, TO ALLOW ESCAPE OF SMALL FISH – It’s important to design fish pots that allow for the escape of small fish. These fish represent the future of the fishery. If stretched nylon web is used to cover the pot’s steel frame, select a web size that will allow small fish to escape. If plastic coated wire is used to construct the pot, circular escape rings, or vents, can be placed in the wall of the pot to allow escape routes for small fish.
THE USE OF BAIT BAGS IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED – In pot fisheries where bait is used, the use of bait bags will increase your catch rates. As the first fish in the pot start to bite and rip at the bag, small bits of bait float off in the current attracting more fish to the pot. As fish rip at the bag, a “feeding frenzy” develops that entices more fish to
enter the pot in search of a meal. Chopped herring is the preferred bait in the Alaska cod pot fishery. Bait bags should be hung so they can easily be seen between the fingers of the trigger entrance devices.
FISH POTS FISH FAST – Alaska cod pot fishermen noticed that with the use of bait bags, their cod pots fish fast. Once the bait is gone, few fish attempt to enter the pot and the fish inside the pot start to seek escape routes. It makes no sense to let the pot soak any longer. Alaska cod pot fishermen will often pull their pots 2-3 times per day. In the Alaska State Waters cod pot fishery, boats are only allowed 60 pots in recognition of this fact. The fast fishing capability of most baited fish pots allows smaller vessels to participate in the fishery with less pots if they pull them frequently. Nesting and collapsible pot designs are also available for smaller boats.
VERTICAL VERSUS HORIZONTAL TRIGGER PLACEMENT – Some species such as scup have a vertical profile and would be hindered entering a horizontally mounted trigger. Neptune triggers can easily be mounted vertically to accommodate these species. While the Alaska cod pot fishery has stuck with horizontal mounted triggers, there is no reason why vertical mounting wouldn’t work well for round shaped fish like cod or haddock. Some vertical trigger placement ideas are shown on the drawings below. The view is looking down on the top of the pot. The conceptual trap design drawings show inwardly leading panels that lead to the Neptune triggers shown in red.
APPLICATIONS FOR ATLANTIC SPECIES – The main species of interest in the Atlantic include Atlantic cod, black sea bass, scup, haddock and pollock. Experimental fishing activities in the UK and Ireland with Neptune equipped pots showed catches of a variety of species including cod, pollock, ling, conger eel, and others. Applications probably exist for a number of Caribbean species such as grouper, bass and various reef fish species as well.
Now that the general guidelines are out there, let’s look at the exceptions!
COLD WATER FISH VERSUS WARM WATER FISH
It appears that cold water fish such as cod, sablefish, halibut, and numerous other species, tend to be more aggressive in going through Neptune Triggers. Warm water fish such as snapper and grouper seem to be a bit more timid in forcing their way through our triggers if the opposing fingers come close to touching. For these cautious fish, it is best to leave a good size gap between the finger tips to allow the fish to see through the opening unobstructed. Most of these fish species have a vertical profile and it makes sense that trigger should be mounted vertically. Depending on the width of the average fish being sought, you can create a gap of 1” to 5 or 6”. Keep in mind that you would use the wider 9” end piece to create this style of big gap trigger. Let the fish look into the pot through the gap. Let them look at the bait bag being enjoyed by their relatives. The Capt. thinks the feeding frenzy mentality will kick in and other fish will want to enjoy the family feast. Might be the last one!
RECENT TRAP AND POT DESIGN DEVELOPMENTS
Over the past number of years, there have been fish pot studies in Norway, Eastern Canada, and the NE US. None of these studies included Neptune triggers amongst their options. Captain Neptune is a bemused as to why Neptune Triggers were not included! The Capt. knows that there are always regional, or, nationalistic, reasons why these studies want to look at their own inventiveness,… but come on! Neptune Cod Triggers have been around since the late 1980’s. They are proven to work when coupled with a well designed pot or trap design. The ‘wheel’ does not need to be re-invented. The Captain stands ready to help any research project to further the goal of creating a more selective gear choice that results in the highest quality catch possible.
Neptune Marine continues to have strong Alaskan connections. Alaska fishing regulations dictate certain cod trigger sizes. See our Alaska Section for specific information of the cod triggers used in this, and the Golden king crab fishery.
OTHER FINFISH APPLICATIONS FOR NEPTUNE TRIGGERS
SABLEFISH, aka, Black Cod or Butter Fish – One of the finest tasting fish in the ocean no matter what you call it. The two major fisheries for sablefish are in British Columbia and in Alaska. That’is where the similarity ends. In BC, the entire quota is caught with pots, in Alaska the vast majority of quota is caught in the hook and line longline fishery. There is a small amount of quota fished with longlined pots in the Aleutian Islands since they are allowed to longline their pots only in this area of the state. Pot gear for sablefish was banned from all other areas in Alaska due to a political allocation battle in the early 1980’s. There were concerns by hook and line fishermen that they would be pre-empted from their usual fishing grounds by strings of longlined sablefish pots.
In Canada, the fishing for sablefish is done entirely with longlined pots. Why the difference between the two fisheries? The Canadian fishermen realized early on that they could harvest their quota share much more efficiently with pot gear. In addition to being an efficient way to harvest sablefish, it was also size selective through the use of netting that allows the juveniles to escape prior to the pot being hauled. Also, pot caught sablefish are brought the fish alive, making for a top quality fish.
Neither the limited Aleutian Island fishery or the Canadian sablefish fisheries use Neptune Triggers,…yet. The standard pot that is used in both fisheries is a conical shaped with a netted entrance and a purse string bottom for unloading and stacking of the gear. The netted entrance is unhooked and easily stored as the gear is stacked. The space saving nature of nesting pots offers advantages to not only smaller boats with limited deck space, but also for larger boats that want to run a lot of gear. If Neptune Triggers were used in this style of pot, the Trigger fingers would get crushed which is not good!
What is good is there is a pot design that would work well on sablefish, and other groundfish species, and still offer some advantages of a nesting pot design. Capt. Neptune calls this the Semi Nesting Pot design since it does not fully nest like the above mentioned pots. Once unhooked, the tunnel eyes holding the triggers are stored in the upper part of the pot, unharmed. The pot is designed to only nest a limited amount with the use of metal rods in the bottom corners of the pot that act as ‘stack stoppers’. The pot probably nests 2/3 of the interior height of the pot.
The photos below show what this design would look like. Disregard the small size of the triggers as they were made to comply with Alaska regulations and do not represent what the Capt. would recommend. These experimental pots were for turbot fishing where predation by sperm whales on hook and line longline gear created problems. Problems for the fishermen, not the whales who were getting strings of turbot, or sablefish, served to them as they waited next to the boat hauling the longline gear. To counter this predation problem, the obvious solution would be to use pots to catch the fish. The fish would be protected by the frame of the pot.
Keep in mind that this style of pot can be made a variety of heights, widths and lengths to suit your deck space. You would select from a variety of Neptune Triggers that would be suitable for the fish you are targeting. For sablefish, turbot and other moderately sized fish, the Triggers using the Regular Finger units would be recommended. For smaller fish species, the Mini Finger Long triggers would work better. Another thing to keep in mind is that this pot design could also be used for crab species.
There is no doubt that certain flat fish will eagerly go flying through Neptune Triggers. Case in point is the Cod Pot fishery in Alaska. In the earliest days of this fishery, it became apparent that halibut had no problems going through the Neptune Triggers in pursuit of the bait. We heard more than one story from fishermen about large 200 lb halibut coming up in their cod pots. They were amazed that they would fit through the then standard 7” height trigger. Not good for fishermen trying to catch cod. Not good for the halibut either. The Alaska halibut fishery is a hook and line only fishery. Seeing the potential of this new pot gear fishery being shut down due to the bycatch of halibut, Capt. Neptune, fishermen and pot makers came up with a modification that solved the problem. By breaking the width of the Trigger entrance into smaller openings, the vast bulk of the halibut were excluded from the pot cod fishery. These excluding devices were called……you guessed it…Excluders ! Today all cod pots in Alaska are required to use some sort of excluding device that does not allow an entrance opening greater than 9” X 9”. The pot makers sometime weld their excluders onto the steel tunnel eye that holds the Neptune Trigger. Neptune sells Excluders made with plastic coated galvanized wire that are attached to the tunnel eye with plastic ties.
For other flatfish species, there has been some recent efforts catching flounder using Neptune equipped pots in the SE United States. A ban on the use of gillnets in North Carolina has prompted fishermen to look into using traps to catch flounder. Initial trials have been very encouraging.
Shown below is a prototype nesting flat fish pot with Neptune Triggers.
Three of the more common members of this marine family are the cuttlefish, octopus and squid. All are sought in various parts of the world as food and bait sources by a variety of gear types.
Cuttlefish – Neptune Triggers have proven very effective in catching cuttlefish in the UK. This developing fishery takes place off the southern coast of England and targets fish during their spawning period. Pots rigged with Neptune Triggers have gained recognition as the best catching pots in the fishery. Initially, the female, also called ‘hens” hide in the pots to escape the overtures of the male, or ‘cock’ cuttle who is seeking to mate with the hens. After their initial haul of the pot, it is common for fishermen to bait their cuttlefish pots with female cuttlefish to entice the male cuttlefish to enter the pot. Cuttlefish grow quite rapidly during their short lives. Most will die shortly after spawning. In the UK, our agent GT Products Europe, sell their own cuttlefish pot design equipped with Neptune Triggers. They also sell Neptune Triggers that can be used to modify other pot designs. Check out our International Contacts to get their information.
Octopus – The escape artist of the ocean. Capable of escaping most pot designs, octopus are difficult to catch…..unless they enter a pot with Neptune Triggers. In the Alaska cod pot fishery, octopus is a common bycatch in pots rigged with Neptune Triggers. The ones that are commonly caught are the larger ones that are too big to escape through the pot’s netting.
Around the world, octopus are fished using what Capt. Neptune likes to refer to as ‘habitat’ pots. Fishermen will fish thousands of these pots hoping that octopus will have taken up residence. Clay pots are often used to create this ‘temporary home’ for Mr. Octopus. All in all, not a very efficient pot due to the lack of any retention devices. Enter Capt. Neptune and his variety of trigger applications. Instead of relying on the older style habitat pots, Neptune came up with an idea that will help retain octopus in a variety of pot designs. Using Neptune’s long or short finger units that are closer spaced than the regular finger units in the cod pot fishery, the Capt. cut the tips of the fingers into sharp points. These sharp points will not bother the octopus from entering the pot. Trying to escape through these pointed fingers is another story. Octopus are sensitive critters and will probably be unwilling to try to escape due the pain coming from the trigger’ pointed fingers. How many fishermen are using this method to catch octopus? At this time, the answer is none. The Capt. thinks it offers the promise of changing the way fishermen target octopus with pots. Just waiting for the right fishermen to give it a try! Below are some pictures of triggers with the pointed fingers mounted on a wire mesh pot covered with landscape fabric to create the dark enclosure that octopus like. These triggers could easily be used on wood slat octopus pots as well.
Squid – Has anyone caught squid with pots before? Capt. Neptune has not heard of this happening in his 30+ years in the business. This doesn’t mean he’s without an idea of how to do it! Squid are attracted to light sources. How about using a pot rigged with Neptune Triggers that would have a underwater light source inside the pot? Kind of a ‘Light Bait’ to lure them into the pot. While most pots are designed to sit on the bottom while they fish, squid reside in the water column, going deeper in the day and closer to the surface at night. Pots can be designed that could be fished at various depths depending on where the squid are seen on the boat’s electronics. By making a pot with neutral buoyancy, strings of pots could be fished like midwater longlines are fished. Wild idea….or not? To give the concept a try, the Capt. suggests fishing off piers where jig fishermen gather to fish for squid. Lower a pot down with a light source enclosed to see what happens. The Capt. is willing to donate some triggers for someone to try this idea.
OTHER FINFISH SPECIES THAT ARE NEPTUNE TARGETS
Chilean Sea Bass in the Southern oceans are an obvious target for Neptune rigged fish pots. Over the years, the Capt. has been contacted by a number of parties looking into catching Chilean Sea Bass with pots. Still no takers. These tasty fish are caught with hooks on longlines from great depths. The problem is that the fish often lose their lower jar during their long haul back process. The fish escapes…but is doomed to die. The other problem is the predators of the ocean, killer and sperm whales. These opportunistic feeders have learned to identify the sound of hydraulics hauling their hook and line gear. The sound they hear is the sound of ……dinner ! Both of these problems can be fixed by using pots or traps to catch these fish. No doubt it’s is very challenging but the benefits might be there. A low cost test would be to use “anchor” fish pots at both ends of your hook and line longline.
Black Sea Bass and Scup are obvious candidates in the NE USA. Capt. Neptune is still looking for a limited number of commercial East coast fisherman willing to try our triggers, mounted vertically in their traps, to catch Black Sea Bass and Scup. It’s a natural application. The trigger of choice would be the MFL 105 mounted vertically.
Blue Cod in New Zealand is a candidate of note. Existing pots use steel fingers to create the entrance. Long lasting? Of course, but not without bruising or scaling the fish. Any commercial Kiwi blue cod fishermen interested in trying out some Neptune triggers should contact our NZ dealer, Wellington Provedoring. Capt. Neptune is offering some free triggers to a limited number of fishermen looking to give our triggers a test.
Eel type species such as the Congor eels in the Atlantic, Kingklip in South Africa, or ling in the North Sea, initial trials indicated that Neptune Triggers worked very well in retaining these slippery fish.
Invasive fish species can be caught with Neptune equipped pots. Fish species such as the Northern Pike Minnow on the Columbia River, the pike in various Alaska locations, as well as the invasive carp in NZ and Australia, all of these invasive species are candidates for being caught with traps rigged with Neptune triggers.
Salmon weirs and other fykded applications provide another use of Neptune triggers. Salmon weirs in the NW commonly use Neptune triggers to provide a one way trip up the river. This insures a more accurate fish count for future planning. Other fykded applications might be out there. The Capt. is listening.
Stock Assessment is another application for Neptune equipped pots. This has been done in the recertification process for a dam in the NW. It proved much a much better method to catch trout, et al, with a trap than with a hook.