Defining state-of-the-art fishing gear

ICES advises 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.
Published: 22 October 2020

​​​​​The basic forms of fishing gear has 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.

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.


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, Northwestern 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 inno​vative fishing gear​​​.

Read the rep​ort from ICES Workshop on Innovative Fishing Gear.​


Print this pagePrint it Request newsletterSend to Post to Facebook Post to Twitter Post to LinkedIn Share it

​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​.

c FollowFollow Focus on ContentFocus on Content
HelpGive Feedback

Defining state-of-the-art fishing gear

International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) · Conseil International pour l'Exploration de la Mer (CIEM)
ICES Secretariat · H. C. Andersens Boulevard 44-46, DK 1553 Copenhagen V, Denmark · Tel: +45 3338 6700 · Fax: +45 3393 4215 ·
Disclaimer Privacy policy · © ICES - All Rights Reserved