Fishing methods explained: Pots, inkwells and creels
3rd April 2016
The fishing industry is a diverse one and the range of methods used is as varied as the fish they are designed to catch with many fishermen only being conversant in the method to which they are accustomed. These guides are designed to give an overview of some of the more common methods, what fishing gear is used and how well it works to target the catch for which they are intended.
Our first guide is on the various types of traps used by fishermen, primarily to catch shellfish but also fish, referred to as pots, creels or inkwells. The design of each type of trap varies depending on where and how they are being used and can be used individually but most commercial fishermen use them stringed together for bigger returns.
Traditionally made from willow and wicker to form a basket with a tapered entrance all traps are formed around the same basic design and use common principles for catching fish. Each trap would have been baited suitably for the target species and dropped overboard using weights such as stones to secure it to the seabed. A line would be attached to some kind of marker to denote its position and left in place.
The tapered entrance to the trap is designed to make it easy for shellfish to make their way into the caging but very difficult to get out again. It is common for traps to be left in situ for up to 24 hours; any longer can see the catch escape.
The variation in choice of bait, design of trap and its name is mainly down to the locality of its origins, the species being fished and the availability (and price) of the bait.
In commercial fishing it is common for long lines of pots to be shot together and the number of these in any fleet can vary substantially depending on the size of vessel, available bait, numbers of target species and type of seabed. Some skippers will also have their own preference about numbers of traps being used and the time they are left so there can be a wide variety of fleet sizes even in the same local area.
When laying multiple traps, the pots will be connected via one long rope with a marker (dhan or buoy) at each end and shot individually from the vessel as it slowly moves across the intended fishing ground.
When the traps are ready to be harvested the vessel will return to the end of the fleet of pots and collect the line to be hauled. Using a haul rig (usually forward mounted to one side of the boat) the line is pulled onboard. As each pot surfaces and drawn close to the side of the vessel they are manhandled to the working table where they are emptied of their catch for sorting. As is usual practice, any by-catch or undersized targets will be returned to the sea before the traps are re-baited and stowed in order, ready to be re-shot. Whether the traps are returned to the same waters will be the decision of the skipper who will use his judgement on the current haul to determine whether to move grounds or fish again in the same area.
Types of Trap: Lobster/Crab Creels
One of the most commonly used traps, the creel is traditionally formed in a 'D' shape and would have been constructed using a slatted base upon which a wooden frame is mounted and covered with netting. The style of these traps hasn't changed in many years though the material in use nowadays is more likely to be of plastic-coated steel. The framework is often protected from abrasion from the seabed by pieces of rubber cut from recycled tyres. The colour of the creel is important and it has been found that black netting is more effective at catching shellfish than other colours. Usually the creel has two entrances at either end; a sloping entrance leading to a narrow 'eye' is sufficient to allow the shellfish to crawl up and drop into the creel and become trapped. The 'eye' can be constructed from a plastic ring (known as a hard eye) or simply an opening in the netting (known as a soft eye).
To allow easy access to the fishermen to harvest their catch and change the bait, the ends of the creel are often hinged and secured using a hook and cord. The gaps in the slats at the base of the creel are spaced in accordance with the MLS (minimum landing size) to ensure that smaller crabs and lobsters can escape.
For those fishermen who do not frequent their pots in adequate time to prevent escapees, the option of using a Parlour Creel is quite popular. These traps are constructed with an extra, netted chamber making escape less likely and can be left on the ocean floor at greater intervals between being shot and being hauled.
Longer fleets of creels more usually have weights at either end, most commonly an anchor or a large weight of metal.
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Types of Trap: Inkwell Pot
Used mainly to fish crabs, inkwell pots (as the name suggests) are similar in design to an old-fashioned inkwell. The trap is constructed using a net over a circular frame into which an solid, bottomless bucket is suspended. Once the crab has been lured into the pot the only escape is through the narrow inlet at the top of the pot. This design is very effective at trapping crabs as the smooth surface at the only escape route does not provide anything upon which the crustacean can grip. However, they do need to be hauled regularly as eventually (and with tenacity) the catch can make its escape. Due to the design of the entrance, these pots do not need any additional hinging as the harvesting and baiting can all be done through the plastic opening.
Types of Trap: Neophrops Creels
Ostensibly the same design as a creel, creels constructed to catch neophrops (langoustines/prawns), these traps are much lighter and have a netting with a smaller mesh size to ensure the catch is secure between hauling. The design of these creels is lighter due to the fact that fishing for this species can be done in deeper waters were there is less likely to be any damage incurred from stones and rocks.
Types of Trap: Whelk Pots
As a result of fishermen becoming more specialist in their efforts to target certain species, whelk pots are becoming a more common sight in British fishing waters. Once a homemade adaption of 25l plastic containers, whelk pots can now be purchased commercially but still resemble these upcycled adaptations. Fishermen simply removed one side of the plastics container and replaced this with netting into which a small hole was made to allow entrance for the whelk. The bottom of the pot is weight to ensure that the trap remains upright on the sea floor once it has been shot but small holes are made to allow drainage of the water during hauling.
Whelk pots can be sourced through Find A Fishing Boat.
Types of Trap: Cuttlefish Traps
Again, to suit the target species, traps have evolved in certain areas to catch specific fish with the cuttlefish trap being just such a design. Larger than standard traps (up to 1m in diameter and 0.6m high) these pots can be round or square with several, cone-shaped entrances narrowing into the trap to reduce escape. The design of these entrances was once similar to the creels but has since been changed to include plastic ‘fingers’ which allow ingress to the trap but, due to the way they are only flexible in one direction, do not allow egress.
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Whilst bait will vary by season and what is available within budget it is most typical to use herring for baiting langoustine, fresh fish for crab, salt mackerel for lobster and crab as bait for whelks.
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