Commercial Fisherman: Job Description

Commercial fishermen measure fish aboard a large vessel
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A commercial fisherman, also known as a fisher, uses equipment like nets, fishing rods, and traps, to catch fish and other marine life that will be consumed by humans or used as animal feed or bait. Some work as members of large crews on big boats in deep water. Other fishermen work in shallow water on small boats with a very small crew.

Here is an overview of this career path, including salary, job growth prospects, necessary skills, and more.

Quick Facts

  • Commercial fishermen earned a median annual salary of $25,380 and hourly wages of $12.20 in 2018.*
  • 39,000 people worked as fishing and hunting workers in 2018.
  • Many commercial fishermen are self-employed. 
  • The job outlook is negative, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reporting an expected 2% decline between 2018 and 2028.
  • Many jobs tend to be seasonal.
  • Large fishing operations are typically a better place to look for work.

*The BLS does not report separate employment figures for fishing and hunting workers.

The Truth About Fishermen

  • Most jobs for fishermen are seasonal. Since opportunities are typically available during the summer, teachers, students and others who are off during that time fill those positions.
  • Most people get jobs through recommendations from friends and family.
  • This job will take you away from home for weeks or months at a time.
  • The work is strenuous.
  • Fishermen risk getting injured or killed on the job. Drowning causes most fatalities.

For an excellent perspective on what it is like to work as a commercial fisherman read "So You Want My Job: Commercial Fisherman."

How to Become a Fisherman

While you aren't required to get formal training, your ability to find a job will increase if you attend a two-year vocational-technical (Votech) program. These programs are primarily available in coastal regions at community colleges. Many commercial fishermen receive on-the-job training, but to operate a large vessel they must enroll in a program approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.

You may need a merchant mariners document, issued by the Coast Guard, to work on certain fish processing vessels. Other licensing requirements vary state-by-state. Permits issued by state or regional fishing councils are also required.

When looking for a job, ask family and friends about openings. Also, go directly to the captains of fishing boats to find out if they are hiring. You can even look online, but remember that job openings are usually posted seasonally. 

You'll likely begin a fishing career as a deckhand before becoming a fisherman. After gaining experience, you may become a boatswain who supervises the deckhands, a first mate, and, eventually, the captain of a vessel.

What Soft Skills Do You Need?

  • Speaking and listening: These skills are useful for communicating with boat captains and crew members. 
  • Critical thinking: The ability to weigh the pros and cons of various solutions comes in handy when you must react to deteriorating weather conditions.
  • Attention to detail: You must be able to evaluate the quality of your catch.

Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

Due to the seasonal nature of this occupation, many jobs are short-term. You may be able to tolerate being a commercial fisherman for a few months at a time even if it isn't suitable for your interestspersonality type, and work-related values. However, if you are planning something more permanent or you would rather not risk working even for a short time in a job that isn't a good fit, make sure you have the following traits:

Occupations With Related Activities and Tasks

  Description Median Annual Wage (2018) Minimum Required Education/Training
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H.S. or Equivalency Diploma or less
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Source: O*Net Online