Become a Commercial Fisherman: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn about a career as a commercial fisherman. Research the job information, education and training requirements to make an informed decision about starting a career in commercial fishing.

Should I Become a Commercial Fisherman?

Commercial fishermen fish in the deep sea or in shallow water by using traps, pots, nets or dredges. They know how to use navigational instruments, conduct fishing procedures, manage the crew and steer a boat. In addition, they maintain and repair any damage to engines, fishing gear or equipment.

Career Requirements

Training RequiredApproved courses by the U.S. Coast Guard, vocational training
Degree LevelAssociate's degree for career advancement
Degree FieldFishing, fisheries
ExperienceInternship for associates program
Licensure/CertificationLicensure varies by state and career title; voluntary certification increases employment opportunities
Salary (2014)$35,250 per year (Median salary for all fishers and related fishing workers)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Complete Coast Guard Approved Training Courses

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), operators of large commercial fishing ships must complete training courses approved by the U.S. Coast Guard ( There are five training centers throughout the country that teach fisherman a variety of basic knowledge. Potential training courses cover topics such as fish identification, first aid and CPR, pollution prevention, and chain of common and industry regulations.

Step 2: Consider Vocational Training

Since formal education isn't required to become a fisherman, the BLS suggested that these people pursue voluntary vocational training to improve employment opportunities. Colleges and other vocational institutions offer training related to fishing and fisheries, including certificate and associates degree programs. Common courses in these programs include fish products and manufacturing, regional fishing, fish biology, environmental conservation and fisheries management. Some programs require students to complete internships at fisheries or on fishing vessels.

Step 3: Learn about Fishing Technology

Technology used in the fishing industry ranges from basic, hand-operated tools to electronic equipment. Some of the hand-operated equipment consists of mechanical repair tools, fishing nets and ropes. Compasses and navigational charts are also utilized. High-tech equipment varies for each vessel, but may include radio communications, radar, navigational global positioning systems, fish monitoring equipment and sonar.

Step 4: Obtain Necessary Licenses

There are several licensing requirements for fishermen, but the qualifications vary based on location and career title. For example, commercial captains require different licensing than the crew. Some states also have license regulations that affect commercial fishermen working near the shoreline. Furthermore, there are different licensing regulations for fish-processing ships, such as requiring the crew to obtain merchant mariners' licenses. Additionally, most states regulate fishing by requiring individuals to acquire permits, and depending on the state commercial fishermen may have to follow the same guideline.

Step 5: Find Employment

To begin your career as a commercial fisherman, you'll start as a deckhand and move up to becoming a boatswain. A boatswain is in charge of the deck crew and maintenance. After putting in your time as a boatswain, you can continue on to second mate, first mate and eventually captain.

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