Glossary of Fishing Industry Terminology

Alaska king crab. Alaska’s most valuable crab per pound. Species harvested are red, blue, and golden king crab. Only male crabs are sold legally.

Alaska pollock. A type of groundfish that is processed into surimi, and then used for imitation crab.

Anadromous. Meaning fish that hatch in streams or lakes, move to salt water and return to spawn in fresh water. All Pacific salmon are anadromous.

Aquaculture. A science in which man-made facilities and scientific methods are used to rear marine animals and plants. Hatcheries are the most common aquaculture operations in Alaska.

Bairdi crab. Commercially sold as snow crab, this species of tanner crab (also see opilio) is harvested during the winter months. It prefers shallow water and is found most abundantly in the Aleutians and Bering Sea. Can weigh up to 5 pounds with a spread of 30 inches.

Block. A frozen block of groundfish fillets.

Blood line. A line of blood located along the backbone of the fish. It is removed by processors prior to the fish being frozen or further processed.

Bottomfish (see also Groundfish). Types of fish that reside on the ocean floor. Fish in this category include sablefish, pollock, cod, and many flatfish. Typically harvested by factory trawlers and longliners.

By-catch. Non-targeted fish species and marine life caught incidentally by fishing vessels – whether in nets or otherwise. By-catch has to be thrown overboard, regardless of whether it’s dead or not. Factory trawlers, in particular, are criticized for wasting millions of pounds of fish annually.

Chinook salmon (king). The largest salmon species, averaging 25.5 lbs. Its meat is very valuable and desirable. King salmon are usually caught by gillnetters and trollers.

Chum salmon (dog). A less valuable species. The meat is best when smoked. Called dog salmon in part because of the hooked snout and protruding dog-like teeth which become prominent when spawning.

Coho salmon (silver). Alaska’s third most valuable salmon. Average size is 8.12 lbs., but can reach 30 lbs. Primarily troll-caught.

Deckhand. The “gofer” on a fishing vessel. Duties include just about anything that may need to be done on a boat. Usually paid a percentage of the boat’s profits.

Domestic observers. Privately employed individuals placed aboard fishing vessels to insure the legal catch of different commercial fish.

Drift nets. Oversized gillnets, often miles wide, that are allowed to drift freely. Controversial because they kill other marine animals that swim into them.

Dungeness crab. This species is distinguished from other commercially caught crabs because its legs are much smaller when related to overall body size. Also, a very popular sport fishery.

Egg sorters. Workers at processing plants. Their job is to pack salmon eggs for overseas shipment.

Ex-vessel price. The price that is paid to the fishermen for their fish.

Fishery. The area, fishing method, and time period in which a specific species of fish is harvested. The Copper River drift gillnet sockeye salmon harvest would be considered a fishery.

Floating processor. A large ship that processes fish at sea. Larger processors house and employ many processors and crew. They often anchor in bays located near popular fishing grounds.

Fresh frozen. A processing term used to describe the end-product of a processing operation. Many onshore processing plants strictly gut, clean, flash freeze, and pack fish whole.

Gaff hooks. Large hooks on the end of a pole used to snag fish brought to the boat, and pull them in.

Gillnetting. A harvesting technique employing fine-filament nets that are set across the path of migrating salmon. Salmon swim into the net and their heads become trapped in the holes of the net.

Girdie. The large reel used to pull in stainless steel trolling lines.

Greenhorn. A term used to describe someone working his or her first season in Alaska.

Groundfish (see also Bottomfish). Types of fish that reside on the ocean floor. Fish in this category include sablefish, pollock, cod, and many flatfish. Typically harvested by factory trawlers and longliners.

H and G. A processing term that stands for “headed and gutted.” Many offshore floating processors and factory boats remove the head and guts of harvested fish before freezing them.

Halibut. A species of fish characterized by its flatness; they are large with a width of about one-third their length. Both eyes are on the top side of the body . Halibut reside on the sandy bottoms of the ocean floor and are harvested by longliners. Their meat is highly valued.

Harvesting. Catching and keeping fish using a variety of fishing methods.

Humpy salmon. Another name for pink salmon.

Inbreaker. A slang term used to describe anyone who is working their first season on a boat. Inbreakers usually earn only a partial crew share for part of the first season and then work up to better pay (full crew share).

Iron chink. A machine used in canneries to behead, de-fin, and gut fish. This machine is also less offensively called the Smith Butchering Machine.

Kazunoko. Dried and salted herring roe sacs that are considered a Japanese delicacy.

King salmon. Another name for chinook salmon.

Longlining. A harvesting method used when fishing halibut and other bottomfish. A longline is anchored to the bottom and has many hooked gangions connected to it.

Loran. A satellite positioning system used for navigation in bad weather. Boats equipped with a Loran are usually safer than ones without it.

Migration. The movement of a species from one area to another. In Alaska the largest migration is the salmon migration, where fish move from saltwater to their freshwater spawning grounds.

Oil skins. Rain-proof bib-style pants that can be bought in Alaska. Helly Hanson makes a good pair, but there are some imitation brands that will do the job for half the price.

Opening. A term referring to the scheduled beginning of a particular fishery. Openings may last only a matter of hours or up to a number of months.

Opilio crab. Commercially sold as snow crab, this species of tanner crab (also see bairdi) is harvested during the winter months. Generally called “opies,” they prefer shallow water and are found most abundantly in the Aleutians and Bering Sea. Can weigh up to 5 pounds with a spread of 30 inches.

Permit. Basically, a license to fish for a particular species in a particular area employing a certain harvest method. For some regional fisheries permits are very limited, and thus can be expensive. A Bristol Bay salmon drift gillnet permit can cost upwards of $300,000.

Pink salmon (humpy). The smallest and least valuable, per pound, of all salmon. They are found in large quantities and are used for canning. The name humpy comes from the large hump which forms on the male’s back during spawning.

Pots. Traps made of wire mesh, plastic, wood, and netting which are baited and left on the ocean floor. When fish or crabs go in they can’t get out.

Processing plant. Onshore buildings where seafood is processed and stored. Most plants are located in or near towns with large fishing fleets. They employ many seasonal workers.

Purse seining. A harvesting method that uses a large net to encompass whole schools of fish. Once a school is encircled, the bottom of the net is closed up and the fish are hauled in it.

Red salmon. Another name for sockeye salmon.

Roe. The proper name for fish eggs. Both herring and salmon eggs are processed and sold for consumption. Japan is the largest roe market.

Sablefish (black cod). A groundfish harvested in the North Pacific, which is prized for its oily meat. Black cod is very popular in Japan. The meat is usually smoked for the U.S. market.

Set net. A gillnet anchored on the shoreline and run out a couple hundred feet into the water by a skiff. Salmon, making their way along the shore, become entangled in the net. Several hours after the “set,” the net is pulled in and the fish retrieved. Set netters have area-specific permits allowing them to harvest fish in this manner.

Silver salmon. Another name for coho salmon.

Skiff. Usually a small, powered metal boat – up to 16 feet in length – commonly found on purse seining boats. The seine skiff is used to assist in the pursing process by initially pulling the net away from the boat and back again once the fish are encircled. Helps keep the boat and net from becoming entangled.

Skow. Usually docked in bays near busy fishing grounds, these barge-like vessels purchase fish from fishing boats.

Slimers. Those who do the initial processing of fish. Term is widely used in floating processors and in onshore plants. Workers gut, clean, and sort fish. An entry-level job.

Sockeye salmon (red). Alaska’s most valuable fish. They account for almost 30 percent of all harvested salmon. The name red comes from the male’s bright red color when spawning. Biggest sockeye harvests occur in Bristol Bay. Fish are usually harvested by gillnetters.

Sonar. An electrical device used to determine depth of water. Sonar is also used to locate schools of fish and other large underwater obstacles.

Spawning. The process of laying eggs and fertilizing them. Salmon spawn in fresh water and die afterwards.

Tanner crab. There are two varieties of tanner crab – bairdi and opilio. The tanner crab fishery is largest in the Bering Sea region.

Tender boat. A type of vessel that travels to fishing boats, buys their fish, sells them supplies and returns to off-load at both onshore and offshore processing facilities.

Tent city. Temporary seafood processor communities found in several major processing towns. Residents set up shelters on pallets or anything they can find to keep things dry; dwellings can get fairly intricate. Most are run by the city and have bathrooms, showers, and barbecue pits.

Tickler. A chain that is dragged along the bottom of the ocean in an attempt to scare fish up from the bottom and into the nets.

Trawling. A harvesting method that involves dragging an open-mouthed net behind the boat. Many types of bottom-dwelling fish are caught when trawling.

Trolling. A type of harvesting where lines, hooks, lures, and bait are used to catch the fish. In Alaska, trolling vessels fish with several lines, each having eight to twelve separate hooked leaders. Trolling is only done in Southeast Alaska.

Turbot. A flat, diamond-shaped bottom fish frequently harvested by longline vessels.

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