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Jobs in the Fishing Industry: Career Options and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed for a career in the fishing industry. Get a quick view of the requirements and details about training, responsibilities, and career options to find out if this is the industry for you.

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The fishing industry has a variety of jobs available for those who wish to work on the sea. Most of these jobs are acquired through previous experience, although programs are available for those without a seafaring background.

Essential Information

Careers in the fishing industry generally don't require a high level of formal education. Most of the knowledge for this industry is gained through firsthand experience. Some technical and vocational schools offer programs in fields like fishery technology that develop useful skills in navigation and operating fishing gear. These skills, coupled with a working knowledge of the local seascape, are essential for success in the fishing industry.

Career Titles Fisher Fishing Boat Captain Fishing Charter Operator
Training Requirements On-the-job training On-the-job training On-the-job training
Licensure and Certification N/A License from the U.S. Coast Guard Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; Merchant Maritime Credential (MMC)
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* -1% (for fishers and hunting workers) 10% (for captains, mates and pilots of water vessels) 6% (for motorboat operators)
Median Salary (2015)* $27,340 (for fishers and related fishing workers) $76,780 (for captains, mates, and pilots of water vessels) $36,800 (for motorboat operators)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Options

Careers in this field are developed largely through experience, though supplemental education through technical or vocational programs makes higher positions more attainable. Advancement is based on picking up the required skills on the job and making connections in the industry. Below are some career options available for those with an interest in participating in the fishing industry professionally.

Fisher

Fishers seek out schools of fish and harvest them for processing and sale. Most either operate their own boats with a small crew or work on a larger fishing boat. Fishers must be able to handle boats and effectively find and harvest their catch. On some boats, the catch is processed immediately, while on others, it is returned to shore for processing. Fishers are also often responsible for handling traps and lines, measuring fish to make sure they meet regulatory standards and supervising crew.

Professional fishing is considered dangerous work. Unpleasant or threatening weather conditions might have to be weighed against monetary needs, and risks in the pursuit of profit are not uncommon.

Fishing Boat Captain

Fishing boat captains who work on larger boats must be able to both lead their crews and navigate waterways or oceans. Their role combines the knowledge of fishers with the leadership skills of supervisors. Captains must make certain that their vessels are prepared for whatever hazards might occur, and they should be proficient in a number of navigational techniques. Familiarity with the local seascape, including tides and shoals, is of great importance in this role.

Fishing Charter Operator

Not all people involved in the fishing industry work in commercial fishing. Some make a living by transporting others to fishing areas. These motorboat operators may have fishing experience, and they generally have developed their skills through hands-on training. As passenger vessel operators, they may be required to obtain local or state licensing.

Training Requirements

Fishers, fishing boat captains and charter operators are all prepared for their roles by on-the-job training. Many find work by simply going to fishing areas and asking for a job or by applying through friend or family connections. Professional fishers often develop the skills they need by gaining first-hand experience.

While postsecondary education is not typically required for careers in the fishing industry, some technical and vocational schools do offer programs in fishery technology or similar fields. These programs can teach students to operate and navigate vessels as well as handle fishing gear. Those fishers who aspire to operate large vessels may also be required to complete a training program approved by the Coast Guard.

Salary Information and Employment Outlook

Over the 2014-2024 decade, fishers and hunting workers were expected to experience a 1% decline in employment opportunities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). The median annual income for fishers and related fishing workers in 2015 was $27,340, based on BLS figures; this includes fishing boat captains, though captains might fall toward the upper end of earners in this field. The highest paid 10% of fishers and related fishing workers earned $46,390 in 2015, for example. The BLS also reported that motorboat operators earned a median annual salary of $36,800.

Fishers and boat captains are just a few of the careers available in the fishing industry. Fishers usually need only experience in order to find work on a fishing boat, while boat captains for the commercial and private boating industry may need licensing and specific training in order to be eligible for employment.

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