PFA members catch these fish using pelagic freezer trawlers – large vessels equipped with innovative technologies and facilities to promote sustainable and efficient fishing practices. The PFA’s members’ 18 freezer-trawlers range in length from 55 to 144 metres and typically carry a crew of 35-60 people.

The vessels offer processing and storage capacity which allows for fish to be immediately sorted, refrigerated, and then frozen as soon as possible after being caught. This ensures optimal quality of the fish, and onboard quality managers oversee the process to maintain compliance with strict quality protocols. 

Not only is this approach highly efficient by reducing the need for regular returns to port; it also reduces the environmental impact by reducing fuel consumption. Use of technology including sonar and echo equipment also allows for detection and targeting of large shoals, enabling highly selective fishing. As a result, wild-caught pelagic fish have the lowest carbon footprint in comparison to all other animal proteins.

Importantly, our members’ trawlers also:

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Target different stocks on different fishing grounds to those targeted by local inshore fishers. In also targeting entirely different markets, pelagic trawlers do not compete with local inshore fishers.

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Use mid-water trawls which do not damage the seabed.

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Limit by-catch to levels of less than 1%, through highly selective fishing practices to detect homogeneous shoals of pelagic fish.

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Fish within the Total Allowance Catches (TACs) set by the European Union, which are based on the recommendations from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) – the leading independent scientific body for fisheries.

What we catch

Pelagic fish range in size, from small species such as herring and anchovies, to larger predator fish such as tuna. Find out more about the size, habitat and lifecycle of the pelagic fish our PFA members catch: 


Herring (Clupea harengus)

Herring can be found at depths down to 200 meters. The herring can be divided in different populations, which are mainly distinguished by size of the fish, rate of growth and migration routes.

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Mackerel (Scomber scombrus)

With an average speed of 10 km/ph mackerel is a swift swimmer. Although smoked mackerel is considered a delicacy in Europe, almost 90 % of the deep-frozen mackerel are exported abroad.

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Blue Whiting (Micromesistius poutassou)

Blue whiting (Micromesistius poutassou)

Blue Whiting lives in the open ocean at depths of 100 – 1000 meters. They follow the vertical migrations of their food, the zooplankton, towards surface at night and towards the ocean floor in the morning.

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Horse Mackerel

Horse mackerel (Trachurus trachurus)

Horse mackerel is one of the most important pelagic species for our fleet. It is a bony fish that is mostly exported to the Nigerian and Japanese market

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Sardine (Sardina pilchardus)

Sardine (Sardina pilchardus)

Sardines form shoals, usually at depths of 25 to 55 or even 100m by day, rising to 10 to 35 m at night. They feed mainly on planktonic crustaceans but also on larger organisms.

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Greater Silver Smelt ( Argentina silus)

Greater silver smelt (Argentina silus)

The greater silver smelt is somewhat herring-like in appearance, being a streamlined fish with silvery coloration and large scales.

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Sardinella (Sardinella aurita)

Sardinella (Sardinella aurita)

Sardinella belongs to the same family as the herring. This species has a wide distribution in West African waters. There are two species of sardinella: the flat and the round sardinella.

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Pacific jack mackerel (Trachurus murphyi)

Pacific jack mackerel (Trachurus murphyi)

The length of the Pacific jack mackerel is commonly below 50cm. Pacific jack mackerel travel in large shoals, up to 600 miles offshore and to depths of 400 m, generally moving through the upper water column.

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Where we fish

Pelagic fish migrate through the water column in large shoals. The location of these fish varies by species and seasonality.  Vessels of PFA members fish mainly in the areas outlined below:

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The crew of our vessels are key to our ongoing work, and safety on-board and high social standards are a top priority for the PFA and its members. The vessels typically have 35 to 50 people on board working in shifts, and the crew enjoy their free time in the sleeping and recreation areas. We are committed to continuously improving our already high standard of working conditions and safety protocols on board to ensure the ongoing wellbeing of our crew.

We’ve outlined some of the crew’s job titles and responsibilities below: 

Skipper: controls the vessel and is responsible for catching the fish. He manages the crew and is the connecting link onboard.

First officer: is, after the skipper, the person with responsibility for the vessel and the point of contact onboard.

Engineer: responsible for the technical organisation and reparations onboard.

Quality master: responsible for ensuring the quality once the fish is on board. He manages the process during the sorting and processing of the fish.

The Cook: responsible for the purchase of all food on board and the daily preparation of meals.

Team boss: Responsible for managing the shifts in service on the processing deck.

Sailors: responsible for setting out and hauling the net and keeping the net in good condition. Sailors on the processing deck are responsible for the process of sorting, freezing, packing and storing.

Learn more about a pelagic fishing vessel

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