ICES state-of-the-art fishing gear

The ICES has released advice to the EU on state-of-the-art fishing gear

The International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) has released advice to the EU on innovative fishing gears.

Gear experts have assessed benefits and impacts of innovative gear on marine ecosystems, sensitive habitats, and selectivity of fisheries.

The basic forms of fishing gear have remained the same throughout history – hooks and nets. However, emerging technologies over time have allowed fishers to roam further, trawl deeper, and catch more – leading to more impacts on fisheries resources, aquatic ecosystems, and the environment in general.

Follow The Fishing Daily

How can the fishing gear itself reduce these impacts? Targeting particular sizes or species of fish. Reducing the catch of non-target, undesirable, and sensitive species. Reducing seafloor disturbance, biodiversity loss, habitat destruction, and fuel emissions. These are the challenges and drivers for innovating fishing gear today.

The European Commission Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE) asked ICES to explore this area and to develop a suite of criteria to objectively define what an “innovative gear” is, to provide a catalogue of gears considered “innovative” in EU waters, and to propose a framework to assess the performance of innovative fishing gears.

ICES responded by establishing the Workshop on Innovative Fishing Gears (WKING), led by Antonello Sala, Italy and Manu Sistiaga, Norway. This group of international experts held meetings throughout 2020, joined on occasion by members of ICES – FAO Working Group on Fishing Technology and Fish Behaviour (WGFTFB), Working Group on Bycatch of Protected Species (WGBYC), and  members of the former Working Group on Methods for Estimating Discard Survival (WGMEDS), who brought knowledge and information into the discussion around the topics of innovative fishing gears.

In addition to ICES experts, WKING also consulted with Strategic Innovation Ltd who provided a valuable perspective from outside the seafood sector that the chairs felt strengthened the group’s approaches and assessment criteria for innovative ideas. Sala notes that, “The approaches proposed by Strategic Innovation resulted in a thorough and fit-for-purpose output that was critical in benchmarking the level of innovation achieved in WKING, and for evaluating the impact across the European seafood industries.”

The group’s work provides the basis for the advice to DG MARE.

ICES state-of-the-art fishing gear

​An example of innovative fishing gear: New semi-pelagic otterboards have been developed in the last years by different door manufactures (e.g. Thyborøn, Denmark; Polar fishing gear​, Iceland; Morgére, France). These semi-pelagic otterboards can eliminate seabed contact by operating 2-5 m off the seafloor while keeping the trawl on the ground, thus maintaining the same harvesting and catch efficiency. As a result, there is significantly less damage to benthic ecosystems, and decreased bycatch of sedentary benthic animals, as well as lower fuel consumption, pollution and GHG emissions​.


Whether incremental, transformative, or disruptive, successful innovation provides a more ideal solution than what had previously been available. An innovative gear therefore, according to ICES, is “a gear or a significant component of the gear that is sufficiently different from the baseline in the current European Regulations, or in the absence of them, different from the commonly used gear in the specific sea basin (area) in EU waters”.

WKING states that, “In general, cutting-edge technologies in fisheries should aim at achieving resource sustainability, improved animal welfare, enhanced food quality and security, and optimize opportunities, whilst supporting economic gains for fishers and coastal communities.”

Current innovative gear

In all, the group developed a catalogue of 42 innovative gears (but not an exhaustive list) from several of the European sea basins (North Sea, North-western Waters, Baltic Sea, Mediterranean and Black Sea) and beyond. This catalogue contains 33 gear innovations from EU waters, which can now be considered an indicative overview of the state-of-the-art technologies and innovations that are relevant to EU fisheries and beyond.

Future innovations

ICES also proposes a framework for assessing innovative gear. Through the work of WKING, rigorous approaches and methodologies have been identified to assess different levels of innovation and provide insight for possible adoption or approval of use, based on three major criteria: catch efficiency, gear selectivity and impact on marine ecosystems.​

Read ICES advice on innovative fishing gear​​​.

Read the report from ICES Workshop on Innovative Fishing Gear.


Brian J McMullin Solicitors
MMG Welding Killybegs