Commercial Fisherman Career Facts

A commercial fisherman works off shore, usually in a trawler or larger vessel. The work is often hard, frustrating and is tied to a commercial market where prices can fluctuate considerably. This can be dangerous work. Fishing voyages may involve being at sea for a considerable time. A fishing vessel may operate hundreds of miles offshore, in any sort of ocean conditions and weather.

The Work Environment

Fishing is a highly specialized operation, emphasizing a type of commercial catch. The basic equation of fishing is that the voyage must catch enough fish to make it profitable. Fuel consumption alone can be costly, and adding wages and extra time at sea makes it more so. A fishing boat crew consists of:

  • The captain: The commander of the vessel, responsible for its operations, navigation and conduct at sea. The captain is also responsible for the choice of fishing area and carrying out fishing operations. Captains may also be owners of vessels, or independent fishermen operating their own business.
  • The first mate: Second in command of the vessel. The first mate is also the senior technical officer, who relieves the captain and assumes command of the vessel when the captain is off duty, performing the same roles. The first mate directs fishing operations, as well as regular crew tasks on board.
  • The boatswain: Third in command, responsible for crew functions and carrying out the captain or first mate's orders, the boatswain is the "foreman" of fishing operations.
  • Deckhands: In most cases these are the crew who are involved in operating nets, long lines, and handling in the catch. They recover the fish and prepare them for storage.

Daily Tasks

A certain amount of catch, is what's called "by-catch." A by-catch consists of fish, or other animals, that are useless for commercial purposes and can reduce catch efficiency by taking up a lot of space in nets. The by-catch has to be removed and thrown overboard. This is usually time consuming and irritating process, particularly when nets are full of large jellyfish or other unpleasant, dangerous creatures.The fisherman's work is also affected commercially by the type of catch. Commercial fishing covers three basic types of catch:

  • Fish for human consumption
  • Bait
  • Animal feed

Salary and Hours

The salary for a commercial fisherman is somewhere between $16,090 to $46,000, depending on seniority and experience. Independent fishermen with their own businesses make considerably more through market trade in favorable conditions.

The hours are highly irregular, depending on voyage time. Working hours are usually shifts unless otherwise required.

The Career Environment

Commercial fishermen usually graduate progressively up the ranks of crew, depending on qualifications. Professional fishermen need to have an understanding of their employment market, and where the business and career opportunities are best, to achieve career progression.

The commercial fishing employment market can be an excellent area for job mobility, but it's also highly competitive. Experienced crew and senior officers are also subject to market conditions, and overfishing has done considerable damage to the global trade. That's reduced business and employment opportunities, and there are fewer positions available.

Replenishment of fishing stocks is a global maritime policy, but fish volumes are still down, and employment is expected to decline in the coming decade.