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Handlining (image © Seafish)

Handlining is a traditional low impact method of fishing, often used by small boats fishing relatively close to shore. The method is selective since it only takes out a small percentage of the shoal, and only works when the fish are feeding (not when they are breeding).  Undersized specimens can easily be returned to the sea unharmed. There is no negative impact on the seabed, and by-catch of unwanted species is rare. 
When Mackerel handlining, hooks with traditional ‘feather’ lures are attached to a line with a heavy weight at the end. Between 12 and 24 hooks are put on each line. This is then ‘worked’ up and down through the depths - either by hand or using a gurdy (a hand powered drum). When a shoal of fish is hit the line is retrieved and the fish are shaken off the hooks or in some cases knocked off the hooks into the boat as the line is pulled past a series of metal ‘strippers’. Handline caught mackerel are best kept in slush ice or refrigerated seawater and preferably eaten within a day of being caught. 
Handlining is sometimes also called jigging, and some Cornish vessels have invested in automated jigging machines that can work several lines simultaneously. Although more efficient this is still a selective and low impact fishing method. 
Using different lures and baited hooks, and sometimes rod-and-lines or poles, fishermen are able to line fish for a wide range of species, some targeting mackerel, others targeting Bass, and others still going after cod, pollack, whiting, gurnard and ling over wrecks and reefs. Fishing for bass with pole and line is also known as ‘Trolling’.
Look out for Cornish line caught bass labeled with a traceabiltiy tag. For more information visit


Cornwall Good Seafood Guide is underpinned by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) Good Fish Guide. The first UK consumer guide to sustainable seafood. For more information visit

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