The greatest number of Alaska salmon are caught in gillnets of one type or another. Gillnetting involves laying a net wall in the water in the path of the fish and waiting for it to put its head into the mesh. When it does, the gills become entangled in the webbing and prevent the fish from escaping.
Most gillnetters are small one and two-man boats. State law dictates that gillnetters in Bristol Bay may be no longer than 32 feet. Most gillnetters outside of Bristol Bay are in the 32 to 42 foot range. A gillnet fisherman uses a net from 900 to 1800 feet long, a choice made by the State of Alaska for fisheries management reasons.
Some gillnetters are equipped to carry their fish in ice, or even in refrigerated holds, but the vast majority deliver their cargo daily. In areas like Bristol Bay, where fishing can be extremely heavy, a gillnetter may be forced to deliver every few hours simply because the small vessel will not hold the quantity of fish caught in a day. In such cases, the hold is usually divided into several bins, and each bin is lined with a cargo net. When the gillnetter comes alongside the tendering vessel, the cargo nets are simply lifted aboard, emptied and returned to the catcher vessel. The cargo-net system, relatively new in the fishery, reduces handling of the fish, and has contributed significantly to the quality of the catch.