How Gillnets Work


Gillnets in Belize are usually made of a matrix of synthetic lines or ropes strung together in a mesh to form a barrier. Gillnets entrap fish by allowing them to put their heads through the holes in the nets and then trapping their gills making it impossible to escape - thus the term gillnet.


Nets are often set in the evening and left in the water over night, although they are often left for longer periods. The length of time a net is in the water is referred to as ‘soak time.’ Nets that aren’t checked routinely run the risk of entangling and trapping any and all species that swim into the net. Because most nets are set and then left unchecked for many hours, sometimes even days, this results in all catch being dead. Gillnetters fishing for sharks actually prefer spoiled fish in their nets as it helps attract sharks.

Gillnets are set where ever fish are likely to be. Although there are regulations about setting gillnets around river mouths, this continues to be a common practice, creating an invisible barrier that entraps nearly everything that transits to and from the river. Gillnets come in various lengths and some gillnets, primarily those used in the open ocean in Belize, are as long as one mile.