Commercial Fisherman: Job Description

••• Cavan Images / Iconica / Getty Images

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.

Quick Facts

  • Commercial fishermen earned a  of $28,310 and hourly wages of $13.61.*
  • 27,000 people work as fishing and hunting workers (2016).
  • Many commercial fishermen are self-employed. 
  • The  is excellent, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predictions. The government agency expects job growth to be faster than the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026 as the demand for seafood increases. There will be more seasonal than year-round jobs available, as well as more opportunities to work with large fishing operations than small ones.

*The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 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, , 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 injuries and fatalities.
  • For an excellent perspective on what it is like to work as a commercial fisherman read "."

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 .

 These programs are primarily available in coastal regions at community colleges. Many commercial fishermen receive on-the-job 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. 

It is likely to begin a fishing career as a deckhand before becoming a fisherman. After gaining experience, you may become a captain's assistant, also known as first mate, a boatswain who supervises the deckhands, and, eventually, the captain of a vessel.

What Soft Skills Do You Need?

  •  and : These skills are useful for communicating with boat captains and crew members. 
  • : The ability to weigh the pros and cons of various solutions to problems 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 , , and . 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:

  • Interests (): REI (Realistic, Enterprising, Investigative)
  • Personality Type ():
  • Work-Related Values: Independence, Relationships, Support

Occupations With Related Activities and Tasks

 DescriptionMedian Annual Wage (2017)Minimum Required Education/Training
Handles, plants, transplants or harvests trees, shrubs and plants


H.S. or Equivalency Diploma or less
Selects animals for breeding$37,560H.S. or Equivalency Diploma or Some College
Cares for live farm, ranch or aquacultural animals$25,470H.S. or Equivalency Diploma or less
Drives agricultural equipment that is used to till soil and plant and harvest crops$30,110H.S. or Equivalency Diploma

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,  ; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,   (visited August 9, 2018).