Occupation Profile for Fishers and Related Fishing Workers

Use nets, fishing rods, traps, or other equipment to catch and gather fish or other aquatic animals from rivers, lakes, or oceans, for human consumption or other uses. May haul game onto ship.

 
 

Significant Points

  • This occupation is characterized by strenuous work, long hours, seasonal employment, and some of the most hazardous conditions.
  • About two out of three fishers are self-employed, among the highest proportion in the workforce.
  • Fishers usually acquire their occupational skills on the job.
  • Employment is projected to decline rapidly.

 

 
 
Overview
$27,250.00 Median Annual Wage 1,000 Average Job Openings Per Year
11.0 Average Unemployment Percentage 66.7 Percentage That Completed High School
38,000 Employment Numbers in 2006 22.6 Percentage That Had Some College
32,000 Employment Numbers in 2016 (est.) 10.7 Percentage That Went Beyond College Degree

Sample Job Titles
Abalone Fisherman
Albacore Fishing Boat Crewman
Bait Man
Beachman
Billet Cutter
Blue Crabber
Boat Captain, Fishing
Boat Deckhand
Boat Officer
Boat Puller
Boatswain, Otter Trawler
Captain
Captain, Fishing Vessel
Cat Swamper
Catcher
Chain Person
Chain Puller
Chainer
Choker
Choker Hooker
Chummer
Chute Greaser
Chute Tender
Clam Digger
Clam Dredge Boat Captain
Clam Dredger
Clam Picker
Clam Sorter
Clipper
Commercial Crabber
Commercial Fisherman
Commercial Fishing Vessel Operator
Commercial Ocean Clammer
Commercial Shrimping Captain
Crab Catcher
Crab Fisherman
Crabber
Crew Member
Cruiser
Deckhand
Deckhand, Fishing Vessel
Deep Sea Diver
Derrick Follower
Digger
Diver
Drag Seiner
Dulser
Eeler
Farmer, Fish, Frog, or Oyster
First Mate
Fish Pitcher
Fish Seiner
Fish Tender
Fish Trapper
Fisher, Diving
Fisher, Line
Fisher, Net
Fisher, Pot
Fisher, Spear
Fisher, Terrapin
Fisher, Weir
Fisherman
Fishing Boat Captain
Fishing Vessel Operator
Fishing Worker
Frog Catcher
Frog Farmer
Gaffman
Gunner
Harpooner
Helper, Fisherman
Hook Tender
Hooker
Hooker On
Hooker Up
Hookman
Hunter Skin Diver
Irish Moss Bleacher
Irish Moss Gatherer
Kelp Cutter
Kelp Gatherer
Landing Worker
Lobster Fisherman
Lobster Man
Lobsterman
Mate, Fishing Vessel
Menhaden Fishing Crew Member
Menhaden Vessel Pilot
Moss Bleacher
Moss Gatherer
Mule Rider
Net Mender
Net Repairer
Netter
Ocean Clam Boat Captain
Oyster Culler
Oyster Dredger
Oyster Fisherman
Oyster Floater
Oyster Harvester
Oyster Picker
Oyster Planter
Oyster Tonger
Oysterman
Pearl Digger
Pearl Fisherman
Pilot
Planter
Purse Seiner
Quahogger
Roller
Salmon Gillnet Vessel Operator
Salmon Troll Fisher
Scallop Dredger
Scalloper
Sea Shell Gatherer
Seafood Fisherman
Seaman
Seaweed Harvester
Second Mate
Second Officer
Shell Fisherman
Shellfish Bed Worker
Shellfish Dredge Operator
Shellfish Grower
Shrimp Trawler
Shrimp Trawler Captain
Shrimper
Shrimping Boat Captain
Skiff Operator
Skipper
Sponge Clipper
Sponge Fisherman
Sponge Hooker
Sternman
Striker
Third Mate
Tonger
Trawler
Troller
Tuna Purse Seiner
Underwater Hunter Trapper
Waterman
Weir Fisherman
Whale Fisherman
Wire Web Worker

Training
  • These occupations involve following instructions and helping others. Examples include taxi drivers, amusement and recreation attendants, counter and rental clerks, cashiers, and waiters/waitresses.
  • These occupations may require a high school diploma or GED certificate. Some may require a formal training course to obtain a license.
  • No previous work-related skill, knowledge, or experience is needed for these occupations. For example, a person can become a cashier even if he/she has never worked before.
  • Employees in these occupations need anywhere from a few days to a few months of training. Usually, an experienced worker could show you how to do the job.

Fishers usually acquire their occupational skills on the job. There are no formal academic training requirements.

Education and training. Most fishers begin as deckhands and learn their trade on the job. Deckhands normally start by finding work through family, friends, or simply walking around the docks and asking for employment. Some larger trawlers and processing ships are run by larger companies. New workers can apply through the companies’ human resources department. Operators of large commercial fishing vessels are required to complete a Coast Guard-approved training course. Students can expedite their entrance into these occupations by enrolling in 2-year vocational-technical programs offered by secondary schools. In addition, some community colleges and universities offer fishery technology and related programs that include courses in seamanship, vessel operations, marine safety, navigation, vessel repair and maintenance, health emergencies, and fishing gear technology. Courses include hands-on experience. Secondary and postsecondary programs are normally offered in or near coastal areas.

Experienced fishers may find short-term workshops especially useful. These generally are offered through various postsecondary institutions and provide a good working knowledge of electronic equipment used in navigation and communication and offer information on the latest improvements in fishing gear.

Licensure. Captains and mates on large fishing vessels of at least 200 gross tons must be licensed. Captains of sportfishing boats used for charter, regardless of the boats’ size, must also be licensed. Crew members on certain fish-processing vessels may need a merchant mariner’s document. The U.S. Coast Guard issues these documents and licenses to individuals who meet the stipulated health, physical, and academic requirements. States set licensing requirements for boats operating in State waters, defined as inland waters and waters within 3 miles of the coast.

Fishers need a permit to fish in almost any water. Permits are distributed by States for State waters and by regional fishing councils for Federal waters. The permits specify the season when fishing is allowed, the type of fish that may be caught, and sometimes the type of fishing gear that is permissible. (For information about merchant marine occupations, see the section on water transportation occupations elsewhere in the Handbook.)

Other qualifications. Fishers must be in good health and possess physical strength. Good coordination, mechanical aptitude, and the ability to work under difficult or dangerous conditions are necessary to operate, maintain, and repair equipment and fishing gear. Fishers need stamina to work long hours at sea, often under difficult conditions. On large vessels, they must be able to work as members of a team. Fishers must be patient, yet always alert, to overcome the boredom of long watches when they are not engaged in fishing operations. The ability to assume any deckhand’s functions on short notice is important. As supervisors, mates must be able to assume all duties, including the captain’s, when necessary. The captain must be highly experienced, mature, and decisive and also must possess the business skills needed to run business operations.

Advancement. On fishing vessels, most fishers begin as deckhands. Experienced, reliable deckhands who display supervisory qualities may become boatswains, who, in turn, may become second mates, first mates, and, finally, captains. Deckhands who acquire experience and whose interests are in ship engineering—the maintenance and repair of ship engines and equipment—can eventually become licensed chief engineers on large commercial vessels after meeting the Coast Guard’s experience, physical, and academic requirements. Almost all captains become self-employed, and the overwhelming majority eventually own, or have an interest in, one or more fishing ships. Some may choose to run a sport or recreational fishing operation.

Nature of Work

Fishers and fishing vessel operators catch and trap various types of marine life for human consumption, animal feed, bait, and other uses. (Aquaculture—the raising and harvesting, under controlled conditions, of fish and other aquatic life in ponds or confined bodies of water—is covered in the Handbook statement on farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers.)

Fishing hundreds of miles from shore with commercial fishing vessels—large boats capable of hauling a catch of tens of thousands of pounds of fish—requires a crew that includes a captain, or skipper, a first mate and sometimes a second mate, a boatswain (called a deckboss on some smaller boats), and deckhands with specialized skills.

The fishing boat captain plans and oversees the fishing operation, the fish to be sought, the location of the best fishing grounds, the method of capture, the duration of the trip, and the sale of the catch.

The captain ensures that the fishing vessel is seaworthy; oversees the purchase of supplies, gear, and equipment, such as fuel, netting, and cables; obtains the required fishing permits and licenses; and hires qualified crew members and assigns their duties. The captain plots the vessel’s course using compasses, charts, and electronic navigational equipment, such as loran systems or GPS navigation systems. Ships also use radar and sonar to avoid obstacles above and below the water and to detect fish. Sophisticated tracking technology allows captains to better locate and analyze schools of fish. The captain directs the fishing operation through the officers’ actions and records daily activities in the ship’s log. In port, the captain sells the catch to wholesalers, food processors, or through a fish auction and ensures that each crew member receives the prearranged portion of the proceeds. Captains increasingly use the Internet to bypass processors and sell fish directly to consumers, grocery stores, and restaurants often even before they return to port.

The first mate is the captain’s assistant and assumes control of the vessel when the captain is off duty. Duty shifts, called watches, usually last 6 hours. In this role, the first mate must be familiar with navigation requirements and the operation of all electronic equipment. The mate’s regular duty though, with the help of the boatswain and under the captain’s oversight, is to direct the fishing operations and sailing responsibilities of the deckhands, including the operation, maintenance, and repair of the vessel and the gathering, preservation, stowing, and unloading of the catch.

The boatswain, a highly experienced deckhand with supervisory responsibilities, directs the deckhands as they carry out the sailing and fishing operations. Before departure, the deckhands load equipment and supplies. When necessary, boatswains repair fishing gear, equipment, nets, and accessories. They operate the fishing gear, letting out and pulling in nets and lines, and extract the catch, such as cod, flounder, and tuna, from the nets or the lines’ hooks. Deckhands use dip nets to prevent the escape of small fish and gaffs to facilitate the landing of large fish. They then wash, salt, ice, and stow away the catch. Deckhands also must ensure that decks are clear and clean at all times and that the vessel’s engines and equipment are kept in good working order. Unless lumpers (laborers or longshore workers) are hired, the deckhands unload the catch.

Large fishing vessels that operate in deep water generally have technologically advanced equipment, and some may have facilities on board where the fish are processed and prepared for sale. Such vessels are equipped for long stays at sea and can perform the work of several smaller boats.

Some fishers work on small boats in relatively shallow waters, often in sight of land. Navigation and communication needs are vital and constant for almost all types of boats. On these small boats crews usually are small, often only one or two, who work on all aspects of the fishing operation. Their work might include placing gill nets across the mouths of rivers or inlets, entrapment nets in bays and lakes, or pots and traps for fish or shellfish such as lobsters and crabs. Dredges and scrapes are sometimes used to gather shellfish such as oysters and scallops. A very small proportion of commercial fishing is conducted as diving operations. Depending upon the water’s depth, divers wearing regulation diving suits with an umbilical (air line) or a scuba outfit and equipment use spears to catch fish and use nets and other equipment to gather shellfish, coral, sea urchins, abalone, and sponges. In very shallow waters, fish are caught from small boats with an outboard motor, from rowboats, or by wading from shore. Fishers use a wide variety of hand-operated equipment, for example, nets, tongs, rakes, hoes, hooks, and shovels, to gather fish and shellfish; catch amphibians and reptiles such as frogs and turtles; and harvest marine vegetation such as Irish moss and kelp.

Although most fishers are involved in commercial fishing, some captains and deckhands use their expertise in fishing for sport or recreational purposes. For this type of fishing, a group of people charter a fishing vessel with a captain, and possibly several deckhands, for periods ranging from several hours to a number of days and embark upon sportfishing, socializing, and relaxation.

Work environment. Fishing operations are conducted under various environmental conditions, depending on the region of the country and the kind of species sought. Storms, fog, and wind may hamper fishing vessels or cause them to suspend fishing operations and return to port. In relatively busy fisheries, boats have to take care to avoid collisions.

Fishers and fishing vessel operators work under some of the most hazardous conditions of any occupation, and transportation to a hospital or doctor is often not readily available when injuries occur. The crew must be on guard against the danger of injury from malfunctioning fishing gear, entanglement in fishing nets and gear, slippery decks, ice formation in the winter, or being swept overboard by a wave. Malfunctioning navigation or communication equipment may lead to collisions or shipwrecks.

Fishers and fishing vessel operators face strenuous outdoor work and long hours. Commercial fishing trips may require a stay of several weeks or even months hundreds of miles away from one’s home port. The pace of work may vary, but even during travel between the home port and the fishing grounds, deckhands on smaller boats try to finish their cleaning and maintenance duties so that there are no chores remaining to be done at port. However, lookout watches are a regular responsibility, and crew members must be prepared to stand watch at prearranged times of the day or night. Although fishing gear has improved, and operations have become more mechanized, netting and processing fish are strenuous activities. Newer vessels have improved living quarters and amenities such as television and shower stalls, but crews still experience the aggravations of confined quarters, continuous close personal contact, and the absence of family.

Related Occupations

Sources: Career Guide to Industries (CGI), Occupational Information Network (O*Net), Occupation Outlook Handbook (OOH)
Earnings

In May 2006, median annual earnings of wage-and-salary fishers were $27,250. The bottom 10 percent earned less than $15,280, while the top 10 percent earned more than $45,480. Earnings of fishers and fishing vessel operators normally are highest in the summer and fall when demand for their catch and environmental conditions are favorable and lowest during the winter. Many full-time and most part-time workers supplement their income by working in other activities during the off-season.

Earnings of fishers vary widely, depending upon their position, their ownership percentage of the vessel, the size of their ship, and the amount and value of the catch. The costs of the fishing operation such as fuel, repair and maintenance of gear and equipment, and the crew’s supplies are deducted from the sale of the catch. Net proceeds are distributed among the crew members in accordance with a prearranged percentage. Generally, the ship’s owner, usually its captain, receives half of the net proceeds. From this amount, the owner pays for depreciation, maintenance and repair, and replacement and insurance costs of the ship and its equipment; the money that remains is the owner’s profit.

For the latest wage information:

The above wage data are from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey program, unless otherwise noted. For the latest National, State, and local earnings data, visit the following pages:

  • Fishers and related fishing workers
  • Job Outlook

    Employment of fishers and fishing vessel operators is projected to decline rapidly as regulations relating to the replenishment of fish stocks reduce allowable fishing.

    Employment change. Employment of fishers and fishing vessel operators is expected to decline rapidly by 16 percent through the year 2016. Fishers and fishing vessel operators depend on the natural ability of fish stocks to replenish themselves through growth and reproduction, as well as on governmental regulation to promote replenishment of fisheries. As the use of sophisticated electronic equipment for navigation, communication, and locating fish has raised the efficiency of finding fish stocks, the need for setting limits to catches has also risen. Additionally, improvements in fishing gear and the use of highly automated floating processors, where the catch is processed aboard the vessel, have greatly increased fish hauls.

    Fisheries councils issue various types of restrictions to prevent over-harvesting and to allow stocks of fish and shellfish to naturally replenish. Fishing councils are shifting to an individual quota system that tends to reduce employment. However, such a system is beneficial for those who remain in the industry because it allows for longer fishing seasons, better investment returns, and steadier employment.

    In addition, rising seafood imports and increasing competition from farm-raised fish are adversely affecting fishing income and is also causing some fishers to leave the industry. However, competition from farm-raised and imported seafood tends to be concentrated in specific species and should have more of an impact in some regions than others.

    Governmental efforts to replenish stocks are having some positive results, which should increase the stock of fish in the future. Furthermore, efforts by private fishers’ associations on the West Coast to increase government monitoring of the fisheries may help to prevent the type of decline in fish stocks found in waters off the East Coast. Nevertheless, fewer fishers and fishing vessel operators are expected to make their living from the Nation’s waters in the years ahead.

    Job prospects. Many fishers and fishing vessel operators leave the occupation because of the strenuous and hazardous nature of the job and the lack of steady, year-round income. Thus, some job openings will arise from the need to replace workers who leave the occupation or retire. Sportfishing boats will also continue to provide some job opportunities.

    Employment

    Fishers and fishing vessel operators held an estimated 38,000 jobs in 2006. About two out of three were self-employed. Most fishing takes place off the coasts, particularly off Alaska, the Gulf Coast, Virginia, California, and New England. Alaska ranks the highest in total volume of fish caught, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. Many fishers are seasonal workers and positions are usually filled by people who work primarily in other occupations, such as teachers, or by students. For example, salmon season causes employment of fishers in Alaska to more than double during the summer. Because fishing is quite seasonal and workers are often self-employed, measuring total employment is quite difficult.

    Knowledge
    • Mathematics — Knowledge of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, statistics, and their applications.
    • Engineering and Technology — Knowledge of the practical application of engineering science and technology. This includes applying principles, techniques, procedures, and equipment to the design and production of various goods and services.
    • Sales and Marketing — Knowledge of principles and methods for showing, promoting, and selling products or services. This includes marketing strategy and tactics, product demonstration, sales techniques, and sales control systems.
    • Medicine and Dentistry — Knowledge of the information and techniques needed to diagnose and treat human injuries, diseases, and deformities. This includes symptoms, treatment alternatives, drug properties and interactions, and preventive health-care measures.
    • Physics — Knowledge and prediction of physical principles, laws, their interrelationships, and applications to understanding fluid, material, and atmospheric dynamics, and mechanical, electrical, atomic and sub- atomic structures and processes.
    Skills
    • Equipment Maintenance — Performing routine maintenance on equipment and determining when and what kind of maintenance is needed.
    • Coordination — Adjusting actions in relation to others' actions.
    • Active Learning — Understanding the implications of new information for both current and future problem-solving and decision-making.
    • Writing — Communicating effectively in writing as appropriate for the needs of the audience.
    • Troubleshooting — Determining causes of operating errors and deciding what to do about it.
    Abilities
    • Near Vision — The ability to see details at close range (within a few feet of the observer).
    • Stamina — The ability to exert yourself physically over long periods of time without getting winded or out of breath.
    • Explosive Strength — The ability to use short bursts of muscle force to propel oneself (as in jumping or sprinting), or to throw an object.
    • Oral Comprehension — The ability to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.
    • Hearing Sensitivity — The ability to detect or tell the differences between sounds that vary in pitch and loudness.
    Tasks
    • Supplemental — Estimate costs of operations and plan fishing season budgets accordingly.
    • Core — Connect accessories such as floats, weights, flags, lights, or markers to nets, lines, or traps.
    • Core — Locate fish, using fish-finding equipment.
    • Supplemental — Share fishing expertise through activities such as writing for fishing magazines, hosting television shows, or testing and endorsing fishing equipment.
    • Core — Load and unload vessel equipment and supplies, by hand or using hoisting equipment.
    Activities
    • Monitoring and Controlling Resources — Monitoring and controlling resources and overseeing the spending of money.
    • Guiding, Directing, and Motivating Subordinates — Providing guidance and direction to subordinates, including setting performance standards and monitoring performance.
    • Assisting and Caring for Others — Providing personal assistance, medical attention, emotional support, or other personal care to others such as coworkers, customers, or patients.
    • Repairing and Maintaining Electronic Equipment — Servicing, repairing, calibrating, regulating, fine-tuning, or testing machines, devices, and equipment that operate primarily on the basis of electrical or electronic (not mechanical) principles.
    • Getting Information — Observing, receiving, and otherwise obtaining information from all relevant sources.
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