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.

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 usually 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 may cover topics such as fish identification, first aid and CPR, pollution prevention, 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 associate degree programs. Common courses in these programs may include fish products and manufacturing, regional fishing, fish biology, environmental conservation and fisheries management. Some programs may 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 tools can include 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 fishers, but the requirements vary based on location and career title. For example, commercial fisher captains require different licensing than crewmembers. Some states also have license regulations that affect commercial fishers working near the shoreline. Furthermore, there are different licensing regulations for fish-processing ships, such as requiring crewmembers to obtain merchant mariners' licenses. Additionally, most states regulate fishing by requiring individuals to obtain permits, and commercial fishers may also have to obtain these permits, depending on state law.

Step 5: Gain Employment

Fishers and related fishing workers earned an annual median salary of $33,430 in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). From 2012-2022, employment in this occupation was predicted to decline by 5%, the BLS said, with the most opportunities being available with large fishing operations.

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