Despite major criticism, catch per unit effort (CPUE) is still widely used as a measure for the size of the exploited stock, but its indicative value is affected by selection of a proper unit of effort. The unit of effort used in the Indonesian fisheries statistical system is poorly standardised with one trip made by a fishing unit of any type. Therefore, changes in catchability, induced by technical innovations cannot be accounted for in official statistics and thus bias the perception of fisheries authorities on the state of stocks. This study shows that differences in technical characteristics in a coastal liftnet fishery on small pelagics around Ambon, such as unit size and type of lamps used to attract fish, influence both effort allocation and catch per trip. Larger fishing units (more windlasses) are more commercially orientated. They have a larger nonzero catch per trip––1.5 times larger nonzero catch per added windlass––and ignore potentially small catches, as shows from their higher proportion of zero-catches. The shift from kerosene to electric lamps does not lead to a higher catch per trip, but the use of electric lamps is less laborious, inviting fishermen to fish also under more unfavourable light conditions such as during full moon. Model simulations of average catch per trip of two fishing areas show that technical innovations in the last 20 years have increased the mean catch per trip by a factor of 4.1 in the fishing area with the largest technical improvements. Technical improvements explain 80 f the change in catch per trip in the official statistics over the last 15 years. Furthermore, the variance in catch per trip among individual fishing units has increased and so has the uncertainty in the average CPUE, as only part of the fishermen implemented technical improvements. Both developments stress the poor indicator value of catch per trip for developments in fish stock biomass and the importance to standardise the unit of effort. The characteristic high variability in catch in this fishery will always obscure effects of technical improvements in more local situations and smaller timeframes. Because of the inconsistent effects of the type of lamps used on the catch rate, it is questionable whether standardising the unit of effort by the type of lamp used will enlarge the precision in the CPUE. Nevertheless, standardising the unit of effort by the size of the unit will enlarge the precision in, and the indicator value of the CPUE in more aggregated catch data as used on higher levels in the fisheries administration of Indonesia.