Safety update

May 1996 Hazards with surface long-line fishing

This safety update is for owners and skippers of fishing vessels. It is issued to raise awareness of the potential serious risk to safety on board fishing vessels which use surface long-line fishing methods. It provides safe practice tips for how best to reduce the risks involved and to alert people to the risk to safety associated with surface long-line fishing.


A fatal accident on board a fishing vessel highlights a need to alert fishermen to the dangers associated with surface long-line fishing.

Information on surface long-line fishing

This method of fishing for tuna by surface long-line has been used in New Zealand since about 1989. The fishing vessel in question employed the following procedure. A 4mm diameter monofilament longline, called the backbone, was set to hang in the water with floats. A series of 1.8mm diameter monofilament lines, called snoods, were attached to the backbone at intervals. Hooks and swivels were attached to the snoods. The backbone was hauled in through a lead block by a hydraulic winch located on the working deck and the deckhands removed the snoods as they approached the lead block. Lead weighted swivels were used to sink the bait and keep the hooks away from the backbone.

On this particular occasion, as the long-line was hauled in, the deckhand realised a shark was hooked, called "shark on" through the intercom and paid out on the winch hauler in order to reduce the tension on the line to prevent it breaking.

However, the snood broke between the hook and the 65g lead swivel. The tension in the line projected the swivel forward and upwards, fatally striking a deckhand on the side of his head. Although a warning was given over the intercom, it could only be heard on the bridge.

Safe practice tips

Owners and skippers of vessels using similar fishing methods should make a careful assessment of the likely dangers and take all practical steps to minimise the hazard from potential projectiles such as weighted swivels. This may include the following:

  • Use stainless steel wire rope between the swivels and hook to prevent damage to the line from fish bites.
  • Use low stretch material for snoods
  • Locate lead blocks at a low level to reduce the tendency for swivels to be projected upwards
  • Provide physical protection such as guards, and keep the size of sea doors to a minimum.
  • Arrange procedures to warn the crew of the presence of a shark on the line.
  • Ensure that the crew are aware of the hazard and take immediate action to protect themselves when a warning is given.

Original source content - Boat Notice 071996, May: Hazards with surface long-line fishing.

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