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How To Become A Professional Fisherman

Spend your days wrangling the big seas! If you love fishing and the great outdoors a career as a professional fisherman may be the job of your dreams.
Career Overview*
  • Median Salary$27,180
  • Career Outlook8% decrease through 2029
  • Certifications Fishing Permit

If your passion is fishing, then becoming a professional fisherman is the perfect way to combine being outdoors with the adrenaline rush of hauling in a big catch. 

On the best of days, a professional fisherman can earn a good chunk of their annual salary on a single, large haul. Certain species of fish can be worth up to several thousand dollars per pound, which is why considerable interest exists in being a professional fisherman (or woman).

Other people choose fishing as a career because they can’t imagine sitting behind a desk—they simply enjoy being out in the open. For many people, the lure of open water is the main attraction. The tang of ocean water, the salty ocean spray, and the sun beating down are irresistible for those who love the outdoors, especially the sea.     

The adrenaline rush that emerges when fishing is an undeniable draw for most people. Nothing beats standing on a swaying deck in a raging storm, hauling in a catch for these individuals. If you’re the adventuresome type, this scenario should appeal to you.

Other people in this career field simply enjoy the act of fishing, being responsible for procuring food. They may also enjoy perfecting their techniques by using different bait. Whether you view it as a weekend hobby or as an essential survival skill, being a professional fisherman can be a physically taxing but rewarding occupation.

What Does a Fisherman Do?

Simply put, a fisherman is a person who uses nets, traps, or other equipment to retrieve fish or other marine life from oceans or lakes for human consumption. A typical day might include steering a fishing vessel, using navigation instruments to locate fish.  Depending on the type of employer, you may end up working on a massive boat with a huge crew in the deep seas–or with a small team working close to shore on on a lake.

When not actively fishing, fishing professionals usually spend the day sorting the catch and ensuring that the perishable cargo stays at an appropriate temperature. It’s also important to maintain instruments and equipment and make minor repairs to engine and fishing gear as needed.  

If you’re interested in becoming a professional fisherman, here’s a quick overview of what you can expect:

  • Average salary: $27,180 annually
  • Required Training: None
  • Certifications: Depends on specialty  
  • Personality: Hands-on, practical, adventuresome

Other desired personal skills include:

  • Speaking includes the ability to convey information or directions in an effective manner
  • Active Listening involves hearing and understanding instructions and asking any relevant questions  
  • Critical Thinking means using reasoning and logic to find alternate approaches or solutions to a given issue or problem
  • Problem-Solving is the ability to face a dilemma or challenging situation calmly and to look at various options for solving it
  • Team Building Skills include being able to trust and depend on your coworkers in any situation, especially when it might be a matter of life and death—and for them to be able to count on you, too

It’s also important for someone interested in a fishing career to know how to swim—and be a strong, skilled swimmer. Even in calm waters, it’s possible to get thrown overboard. Learning how to swim can be an invaluable skill, since it only takes a few minutes for a person to drown. Even better, getting advanced lifesaving training will an essential asset as a fishing professional.

How to Become a Professional Fisherman

When researching how to become a professional fisherman, you’ll find several vocational schools that offer certificate programs. Most of these programs are near bodies of water so that they can provide hands-on experience. The cost of these programs varies depending on the region and the specialty.

Remember that you can find jobs in the fishing industry that are both offshore (on boats) and onshore jobs. These include occupations like seafood processors that unload the fishing boats and then clean and fillet the fish (or crabs, shrimp, and so on) and package them to distribute or sell. 

Another occupational niche includes fish and seafood brokers, who are responsible for marketing the fresh fish and seafood to wholesalers and retailers and who serve as the liaisons between the fishing industry and the retail industry. 

Other jobs involve transporting the catch and assisting fishermen with the business aspects such as calculating taxes and duty on their catch. Brokers can also help commercial fishing professionals keep track of their required fishing licenses and make sure they have the most current regulatory information regarding quotas and licensing requirements as well as customs processing issues. 

How to Get Started as a Fisherman

To get started and rack up some experience in fishing professionally, you might start with work as a deckhand. Deckhands are helpers around the boat, so it’s almost like an internship—but you will gain significant hands-on experience working as a member of the team, and you can pick up basic skills. You’ll also want to enroll in vocational training programs, which you can usually find in cities and communities along the East Coast, West Coast, Gulf Coast, or Great Lakes. 

Search online for companies in your area that operate fish-processing ships, and then submit an application through their HR page on their website. 

If you’re an experienced fisherman and believe your skills are above those of an entry-level deckhand, you can look for jobs such as captain’s assistants and crew leaders of deckhands.

Training or Education  

While you do not need a formal education to be a fishing professional, many workers opt for vocational or technical programs to improve their job outlook. A high school diploma, or its equivalent, is usually necessary to qualify for these programs. Most programs are between 18 and 24 months long, culminating in a diploma or certificate.

Most colleges and universities will offer some type of fishery program with courses such as marine safety, navigation, and fishing gear technology. Other courses may include species identification, pollution prevention, and basic first aid and CPR. You may also explore topics such as food production, transportation, and producing and processing the catch.

Some programs include an internship component, where students gain valuable hands-on experience on vessels or in fisheries. Many programs include technology classes such as the following:

  • Radar
  • Sonar
  • Navigational charts
  • Compasses
  • Fishing ropes and nets
  • Radio communications

Licensing and Certification for Fishing Professionals

If you’re interested in learning how to become a professional fisherman, you’ll find that the licensing requirements vary from one state to the next. Generally, you start as a deckhand and eventually move to a boatswain. From there you’ll advance to second mate, then first mate, and ultimately to captain. The requirements for captain will vary in different regions, but all captains of fishing boats need licensing.

Commercial fishermen almost always need a license to fish, although the requirements may vary depending on whether they are fishing in a state or federal body of water. These permits will also specify the season and the type and quantity of fish that the authorities allow you to catch. Depending on the region, the permit may also specify the type of fishing gear allowed.

While it’s true that most fishermen can receive training on the job, in order to operate one of the larger vessels, you’ll need to enroll in a program approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Crew members on some fish processing boats may need a merchant mariner’s certificate. Generally, individual states set the requirements for licenses. Waters within three miles of the coast are “inland waters.”

Pros of Being a Fisherman

When researching how to become a professional fisherman, you’ll notice that virtually no training is necessary. Even with little to no experience, the average person will have no difficulty finding employment. What you need most of all is the desire to learn and the ability to handle heavy, bulky equipment.

Physical stamina is also essential, since for many fishermen the day doesn’t end when the boat pulls into the dock. Next comes unloading cargo, refilling bait, and getting the boat ready for the next day.

Fishing is the perfect seasonal work for college students and itinerant workers—or those who prefer having a varied work schedule. It can also provide added income for semi-retired people whose days have a bit more flexibility. For those with limited language or other essential social skills, fishing can also be a great way to earn a living.

For individuals who value working out in the open with no set schedule, as well as those who prefer to work with their hands, being a professional fisherman can be the perfect occupation. Fishing is also the ideal career for people who prefer to work alone or with small groups, or who prefer to be their own bosses. Many fishing professionals own their own boats and can keep the majority of profits for themselves.  

For many families, it’s considered tradition for at least one son to become a fisherman. Since it’s one of the oldest professions, some people find comfort in carrying on this tradition. Most people gain experience by joining their local fishing club to perfect their skills.    

Cons of Being a Fisherman

While some may like the idea of being out in a small boat lazily casting a fishing line, the reality is far different. Fishing professionals can work under grueling conditions. Their workday starts before sunrise and sometimes continues long after sunset. Their day is also largely dependent on the weather since their fishing vessels can’t navigate in storms or foggy conditions.

When researching how to become a professional fisherman, you’ll find that it’s a physically stressful job. Even though machinery has replaced some of the work, fishermen still rely on brute strength to haul, sort, and prepare their catch—and then do the necessary repair work on nets or machinery.

Professional fishermen sustain a high rate of injury in the workplace. Since fishermen work on a slippery deck that is constantly moving, it’s understandable that a single wrong move could cause a serious injury. They also face the risk of malfunctioning gear, getting tangled in nets, or having a large wave sweep them off the deck. Worse, they often have no immediate medical help available if the vessel is out at sea or in an inaccessible location.

Fishing professionals also face factors such as cramped quarters and isolation. It’s very common for fishermen to spend weeks at sea in tiny cabins with strangers, cut off from their loved ones with no way to contact them. This is where those teambuilding skills can come in handy.   

Professional Fisherman Job Outlook

While the industry projects a decrease of about 2% in jobs over the next ten years, the truth is that being a professional fisherman is still a viable option. The past few years have seen an increased interest in meat alternatives, with more people turning to organic, sustainable farming methods.

The general public has also shown an interest in responsible harvesting. Bodies of water stocked by the state or federal government can sometimes limit the amount of fishing as a way to keep the levels stable. Smaller fishing operations have an important niche, in counterpoint to the large commercial fishing industry.

While the turnover rate remains high because of the hazardous environment, job prospects remain strong with the larger fishing operations. Depending on the area, these positions are sometimes highly sought-after because they may be the only source of income for many.   

In Summary: Finding Your Career Niche

If you’re interested in learning how to become a professional fisherman, you’ll find that it’s an unconventional way of life. No matter their background, some aspect of the fishing life will hold appeal for most people. For those who can’t resist the lure of the open water, it may be the perfect job.

We hope this overview from Blue Collar Brain has been helpful to you. If you are still searching for career ideas, be sure to read our other career profiles so that you can find the blue-collar careers that suit you best! 

*Data source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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