Longlining is a commercial fishing technique employed in many fisheries throughout the world. Although diverse in scale and targets, these fisheries all involve harvesting fish and other seafood using a mainline with several baited hooks connected by smaller branch lines. These branch lines are attached to the main line via clips or swivels, and individual hooks are baited by hand before cast overboard. Some longlines are cast and hauled directly from vessels, while others are set out and anchored, left adrift for later haul-back.
Individual countries regulate the allowable length of longlines and the total number of hooks permitted per line. Fisheries in crisis may only allow as few as 10-20 hooks per individual mainline, whereas robust fisheries such as those in the Bearing Sea and North Pacific allow on average as many as 2,500 hand-baited hooks on a single series of interconnected lines which run many miles in length. In international waters, few regulations exist and enforcement is scarce if present at all. The lack of a centralized authority governing fishing regulations in international waters with actual enforcement authority poses a serious threat to the health of our oceans and should be taken seriously when considering how your seafood is sourced. Although imperfect, the systems governing our local fishery and those of similar North Atlantic and Pacific fisheries are a much safer bet when it comes to preserving the health of the ocean for future generations. In international waters, large corporations set out vessels of immense size and proportion, with little discretion over the issue of the by-catch of unintended species.
Commercial longline fisheries can generally be divided into two types based on where the lines are set in the water column. Pelagic longline fisheries often employ a system of buoys to keep the mainline and attached baited hooks suspended towards the top of the water column in order to target pelagic species including tuna, marlin and swordfish. Conversely, mainlines can be anchored to sit closer to the seafloor where baited hooks target groundfish like cod and haddock as well as larger species like halibut. Thanks to Hollywood’s adaptation of Sebastian Junger’s book The Perfect Storm, many have become familiar with the fishing vessel Andrea Gail, a longline fishing vessel whose crew of six was lost at sea during a tragic storm in 1991 while fishing for swordfish over 150 miles east of Sable Island.
In terms of quality, longline fisheries provide one of the most effective and efficient methods for harvesting the highest quality seafood, especially here in the Northeast where longlines are set from relatively small-scale day boats. There are several reasons for this. First, once hooked, the fish on a longline are able to stay alive because the branch line gives the fish space to move about and continue to filter water through its gills for sufficient levels of oxygen. This means that a majority of the catch hauled on board is still flopping when it hits the deck, ensuring the highest level of freshness and quality.
What’s more, the fact that these fish are handled individually and unhooked one-by-one as the mainline is carefully hauled back aboard the boat ensures that each fish is not unnecessarily banged around or damaged before it is packed away on ice. Although this method is in many ways more time consuming and labor intensive than other methods used to harvest seafood, the value added as a result of the maintenance of quality makes the extra effort well worth it, especially when dealing with high-end species such as halibut or swordfish. Because of this emphasis on quality and maintaining each fish’s freshness, Turner’s often partners with local longliners and those from nearby fisheries in Iceland to ensure that the market and restaurant are stocked with the highest quality seafood available.