Updated: Mar 20, 2020
With illustrations by the amazing Tom Crestodina.
Content from the Harbor History Museum's new publication "Types of Fishing Boats" made possible by a grant from the Port of Tacoma.
You can't live in the "fishing village" of Gig Harbor and not know your fishing boats. Many we know by name, like Nick Babich's Lucia pictured here. But what type of boat is she and what type of fish might she catch? Here's a fun way to test your eye and learn what to look for in the family of fishing boats.
FISHING BOATS are usually categorized by their gear and method of catching fish. Methods of catching fish are often based on the kind of fish being caught and where in the ocean they live. Purse seiners, trollers, and gillnetters catch schooling fish such as salmon and sardines. Longliners and trawlers catch bottom fish such as sole, black cod, and halibut. Tenders carry all types of fish to canneries. Most of the fishing boats in Gig Harbor are purse seiners and gillnetters.
Take a close look at the boats pictured below and try to identify what's unique about each one. Does one have a power block hanging from the mast boom? Does another have a drum on the back for winding up the net?
A PURSE SEINER uses a net that is towed by a skiff. The skiff circles the net around a school of fish. It is cinched shut or “pursed” at the bottom like a drawstring purse. The net is then hauled aboard the boat by a power block that hangs from the mast boom. The fish are spilled or lifted out of the net and placed into the fish hold in the hull or “belly” of the boat. A typical seine crew is five to six people. The Lucia pictured above is a purse seiner.
A GILLNETTER sets a net in front of a swimming school of fish and literally catches them by the gills when they try to swim through the net. Gillnetter crews usually number one to three people. The grey boat above with number 84616 on it is a gillnetter.
A TROLLER or LONGLINER uses long lines strung with baited hooks to catch individual fish. is technique allows the fishermen to release fish if they are not target species or of adequate size. Trollers can run with a crew as small as two. Salmon, tuna, and halibut can be caught with long lines. The red boat above is long lining for large fish that swim in schools, like tuna and salmon.
A TRAWLER pulls a cone-shaped net behind the boat, often near the ocean floor. Their common catch includes cod, sole, and rockfish. Today, large and small mid-water trawlers work in the North Pacific pollock fishery in Alaska. Trawlers often have a big tow bar on the stern and require crews of four or five to operate.
A TENDER is a boat that picks up catch, like salmon or herring, from fishing boats so that the fishermen don’t have to stop fishing to run their catch back to the cannery. Tenders usually have three to four crew members.
Now, take a walk along the Gig Harbor waterfront and test your eye for spotting fish boats. Most of our fleet fishes in Alaska during the summer, so the boats are at here in the harbor until early June. Can you spot the Lucia, the Tradition, and the big tender Beryl E?
Fun Fact: Look for a big, round pulley dangling from the boats' mast boom. That's a power block. The power block was patented by Mario Puretic in the 1950s and took the hard work out of hauling in nets full of fish. Where once every seiner needed a crew of ten to do the job, with the power block, they only needed a crew of five.
Boat Name Hunt: Check out the etched tiles at the Ancich Park viewing platform. Each one has a fishing boat name and a list of her skippers. For example, the SHENDANDOAH is listed along with her skippers Pasco Dorotich, John Dorotich, and Tony Janovich. The letter by the boat name tells you what type of fishing boat it was. (Ex: S is for Seiner.)
Want your own copy of "Types of Fishing Boats"? Write to us at the following address (or use the CONTACT US form) and we'll send you your own FREE COPY of our "Types of Fishing Boats" publication (make sure to include your mailing address!):
Harbor Mystery Museum
PO Box 744
Gig Harbor, WA 98335
Illustrations used with permission. Content developed for the exhibit "Salmon, Seiners, and Life on the Sea" at the Harbor History Museum.