If your passion is fishing, then becoming a professional fisherman (or angler) 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 (sometimes often called an angler) 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 an Angler or 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 + 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:
- Navigational charts
- 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.”
If you really love water – and are not ready to get into professional fishing, why not give being a waterslide tester a shot!
How Much Do Commercial Fisherman Make?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics places fisherman careers under the category of fishing and hunting workers. The salary data below is for all careers within that category.
The median annual wage as of 2017 was $28,530.
The median wage reflects a salary where 50% of employees make less than that amount and 50% make more.
Pros & Cons Of Being A Professional Fisherman
- Very little training or education is needed
- Seasonal work can make it a good option for students and others looking for a more flexible work arrangement
- Work is often in small groups making it good for those that prefer to work alone or with less people
- Opportunity to be your own boss
- Very physically demanding
- Work is often seasonal meaning you can work much more at certain times of the year
- Might need to relocate to areas with more work opportunities
- Early morning hours and long days are common
- Cannot work when the weather is bad
- Injuries are more common in this career and because of the distance from a hospital it can be a bit scary
- Some jobs may require days at see in tight quarters with others
Professional Fisherman Job Outlook
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.
Expected job growth for fisherman is 11% through 2030.
*Data source: Bureau of Labor Statistics