Know Your Nets

Three Types of Nets

Boaters and anglers in particular need to know how to identify and avoid commercial fishing nets. Three types of nets currently used are Gill nets, Trap nets and Salmon nets. Check this site to learn how the nets work, what they look like, how they must be marked in the water, and Michigan laws. The site also provides safety tips and advice on how to avoid commercial fishing nets.

Parts of Lakes Michigan, Huron and Superior are open to commercial fishing as a result of an agreement – or Consent Decree – signed in August 2000 governing Tribal commercial fishing. Parties to the agreement include five Indian Tribes, the State of Michigan and the United States.

Ludington Area Charterboat Association and Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Announce Cooperative Effort to Improve Safety Around Commercial Trap Nets.

Gill Nets

gill net illustration

  • Contains floats along the top and weights on the bottom (Stands like a fence along the bottom, but can also be suspended)
  • Fish too big to swim through the netting get caught by the gills when they try to back out
  • Generally set perpendicular to shore and strung end to end in gangs
  • Single net varies in depth from 6 to 20 ft and length from 100 to 400 ft
  • Handled in boxes, 3 to 5 nets or 1200 to 1800 ft per box
  • United end to end to form gangs and may reach 3 to 5 miles in length
  • Large mesh 4 to 5 inches stretched measure for whitefish, trout, and walleye
  • Small mesh 2 3/8 to 3 inches for lake herring, chubs, yellow perch, and round whitefish
  • Bait nets 1 to 2 inches for bait
  • Gill nets have been set in depths greater than 700 feet

Michigan Net Laws

Gill Net Marking

Gill Nets set in water greater than 15 feet, must be marked on the surface at each end with a 4 foot staff buoy, 12″x12″ red or orange flag, and owner’s license number.

gill mark set

Gill Nets set in water less than 15 feet, must be marked on the surface at each end with a 6″x14″ float with owner’s license number, and a 1.5″x4″ float every 12 feet, or a red or orange 6″x14″ float every 300 feet.

mark less than 15

Current Michigan Law for Marking Fish Nets (Marine Safety Act)

  • Buoys marking fish nets can be placed without a permit from the DNR
  • Buoys marking gill or trap nets shall have a spar buoy with a staff not less than 1 inch in diameter spar
  • Buoy exposure shall not be less than 5.5 ft above the water surface
  • Spar buoy shall have a black flag on top not less than 10 x 12 in. (Note: The DNR Law Division has not cited the use of orange flags as a violation)
  • Have affixed a license number or other identification number
  • Be maintained in good and serviceable condition
  • Float in an upright position
  • The lifting buoy of a trap net shall have metallic plates or cylinders not less than 6 inches in height affixed near the top and capable of radar detection from an arc of 360 degrees
  • Affixing of a metal radar reflective device to the top of a gill net buoy is optional

Net Marking – prior to 1/1/2002

  • All nets must be marked at each end with a buoy on the surface.
  • Buoy must show the license number of the owner of the net.

Trap Nets

trap net illustration
  • Long lead net that diverts fish into an enclosure (heart) and through a tunnel into a pot (Whitefish naturally lead into pot).
  • The net has a 1000 foot 14 inch stretched mesh lead.
  • Submerged closed-top hearts and pots supported by floats, frames, and anchors.
  • Trap nets have wing nets leading into a V-shaped heart and box-shaped pot.
  • Trap Nets typically fish in water shallower than 90 feet.
  • Shallow water trap net-lead averages 15 ft or less in depth; and the pot 2 -15 ft in depth and 6-15 ft in length.
  • Deep water trap net-lead averages 35 ft or more in depth; and the pot averages 20-40 ft in depth and length.
  • Trap Nets often have a flag marker buoy or float at the lead end toward shore and the main anchor end lakeward.
  • The pot always has a flag marker buoy.
  • Floats may also be present at the ends of the wings


  • Avoid passing between buoys.
  • Give wide berth as they have many anchor lines extending out in all directions from the net.

Construction Specifications


Mortality in Trap Nets

Annual Non-Target Species Mortality in Trap Nets in Lake Superior from 1983-1989

Sub Lake Whitefish 131 19,721
Lake Trout 414 11,341
Coho Salmon 26 37
Chinook Salmon 6 15
Rainbow Trout 6 11
Brown Trout 12 55
Lake Herring 41 143
Round Whitefish 39 67
Lake Sturgeon 0 48

Schorfhaar and Peck, Michigan Department of Natural Resources

Trap Net State Regulation

Commencing in 2002, nets shall be marked as follows

  • All trap nets must be marked with a staff buoy on the pot with at least four (4) feet exposed above the surface of the water with a red or orange flag no less than twelve (12) inches by twelve (12) inches bearing the license number of the fisher and affixed to the top of the staff.
  • In addition, the king anchor and inside end of the lead shall be marked with a red or orange float not less than one (1) gallon in size.
  • Trap nets shall have a four and one-half (4.5) inch (stretch) minimum pot mesh size, except: trap nets of four and one-quarter (4.25) inches pot mesh size or greater may be used if they were used within 1836 treaty waters prior to May 31, 2000.
  • Small mesh trap nets having a two and one-half (2.5) to three (3.0) inch (stretch) pot mesh size may be used for fishing for yellow perch, chubs, or other appropriate species as authorized by CORA.
  • The TFC shall conduct a review study to determine whether a ninety (90) foot depth restriction for trap nets is appropriate and make recommendations to the parties concerning depth restriction regulations.

Salmon Nets

  • Each gang of salmon nets shall be marked at each end with a staff buoy which extends a minimum of five (5) feet above the surface and which:
  • Is at least fifty percent (50%) reflective orange in color.
  • Has affixed to the top one orange flag twelve (12) inches by twelve (12) inches in size.
  • Has affixed the license number of the fisher.
  • Each gang of nets shall have attached along the top edge of the net orange PVC floats which are at least six (6) inches by fourteen (14) inches in size and which are evenly spaced along the length of the gang at intervals of not more than three hundred (300) feet of net.

Net Marking – Salmon nets

  • Shall be set in a manner that permits reasonable ingress and egress by shoreline residents.
  • All nets must be marked at each end with a buoy on the surface.
  • Buoy must show the license number of the owner of the net.

Subsistence Fishing

Subsistence nets shall be marked at each end with an orange float equivalent to at least a one (1) gallon jug in size bearing the tribal ID number of the subsistence fisher. These nets will not exceed 300 feet.

Net Safety

What To Do if Tangled in a Net?

  • Snagged downrigger cables can be quite dangerous.
  • Always keep bow of boat facing into sea.
  • Release any tension on downrigger cables and cut.
  • If prop becomes tangled shut off engine completely.
  • Radio U.S. Coast Guard.
  • Do not enter water.


Ronald Kinnunen
(906) 226-3687