Commercial Fisherman: What Is It and How to Become

Commercial Fisherman: What Is It and How to Become


If you have always been drawn to the sea and the thrill of the catch, then becoming a commercial fisherman might just be the right job for you. Fishing is an age-old profession that has been a way of life for many coastal communities around the world. Whether you are a seasoned angler or a student looking to turn your passion for fishing into a career, this step-by-step guide will provide you with the information and tips you need to pursue a successful career as a commercial fisherman.

Before you dive knee-deep into the world of commercial fishing, it is important to understand that this is not an ordinary 9-to-5 job. Being a commercial fisherman requires physical fitness, perseverance, and a willingness to work long hours in often challenging conditions. As a commercial fisherman, your job will be to catch fish in large quantities for sale to the public or to seafood distributors. The job can be physically demanding, and you will need to be prepared to work in all types of weather and sea conditions.

2. Obtain the necessary licenses and permits. Before you can start fishing commercially, you will need to obtain the proper licenses and permits. These requirements may vary depending on your location and the type of fish you plan to catch. You will need to check with your local fishing authority or department of natural resources for information on the specific licenses and permits you will need.

3. Gain hands-on experience. Fishing is not something you can learn from a book. The best way to learn the trade is to get out on the water with experienced fishermen. Look for opportunities to work as a deckhand or crew member on a commercial fishing boat. This will give you valuable hands-on experience and help you develop the skills and knowledge necessary to become an effective fisherman.

4. Be prepared for the challenges. Commercial fishing can be a physically demanding and mentally challenging job. It requires being away from home and loved ones for extended periods of time, working long hours in unpredictable weather conditions, and dealing with the constant ups and downs of the fishing industry. It is important to have a strong work ethic, good communication skills, and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

6. Network and build relationships. The fishing industry is a tight-knit community, and building relationships with other fishermen, industry professionals, and seafood distributors can be key to your success. Attend fishing industry events, join professional organizations, and participate in online forums to connect with others in the industry and learn from their experiences.

7. Keep improving your skills. Fishing is an art that can always be improved. Take every opportunity to learn from more experienced fishermen, attend workshops and seminars, and stay up to date with the latest fishing techniques and practices. The more you know and the better your skills, the more successful you are likely to be as a commercial fisherman.

Overview of Commercial Fishing

Commercial fishing is a challenging and physically demanding profession that requires a good level of fitness. Fishermen must be willing to work long hours, often in dangerous weather conditions, to ensure a successful catch. Therefore, physical fitness and a willingness to work hard are traits that are highly valued in this industry.

To become a commercial fisherman in the United States, there are certain requirements that must be met. First and foremost, most states require a commercial fishing license or certification. This certification is obtained through training programs offered by state fisheries departments or other related organizations. The certification process usually involves completing coursework and passing a written exam to demonstrate knowledge of fishing techniques, safety procedures, and fishery management practices.

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In addition to obtaining the necessary certification, commercial fishermen must also possess certain personal traits and skills. Strong communication skills are essential, as fishermen need to be able to effectively communicate with their crew members and communicate with fish buyers and other industry professionals. Being able to work well as part of a team is also crucial, as commercial fishing is typically done on large boats with a crew of several individuals.

Commercial fishermen must also have a good understanding of fish species and fishing techniques. Different fish species require different fishing methods and gear, so it is important for fishermen to have knowledge and experience in using various fishing lines, nets, and reels. Practice and experience are key to becoming a skilled commercial fisherman.

Commercial fishermen need to stay updated on the latest trends and regulations in the industry. This can be done by reading industry publications or subscribing to fishing journals. Staying informed about changes in fishery management and industry practices will help fishermen make better decisions and stay ahead of the competition.

Commercial fishing can also offer good job satisfaction and financial rewards for those who are successful. While it is not an academic career path, there are postsecondary programs and certifications available that can provide a better understanding of the industry and improve job prospects. However, many successful commercial fishermen have learned on the job and gained experience through practical training.

So, if you’re willing to work hard, enjoy being out on the water, have a positive attitude, and are willing to learn from experienced skippers and fellow fishers, commercial fishing can be a rewarding career choice.

Benefits of a Commercial Fishing Career

1. Job Security

Commercial fishing is an essential industry that provides a stable source of employment in coastal areas. Unlike some other professions that may be affected by economic trends, the demand for seafood and fish products remains steady. This means that there is always a need for experienced fishers, making job security a significant advantage.

2. Good Salary Potential

3. Enjoying the Outdoors

If you prefer to spend your days surrounded by the beauty of nature rather than sitting in an office, a commercial fishing career is a great fit. This job allows you to work in stunning coastal areas, exploring different waters and experiencing the ever-changing natural environment.

4. Learning Valuable Skills

Working in the commercial fishing industry requires a broad range of skills, including navigation, fishing techniques, safety protocols, and understanding marine life. This learning experience can provide you with valuable competencies that can be applied in various fields later on in life.

5. Independence and Freedom

One of the best aspects of a commercial fishing career is the independence it offers. Fishermen often have the freedom to set their schedule and work on their terms. While they must follow regulations and fishery management practices, they still have more autonomy compared to many other professions.

6. Opportunity for Advancement

If you start as a deckhand or a crew member, you have the chance to work your way up to becoming a skipper or even owning your own fishing vessel. With experience and continuous learning, you can earn promotions and take on additional responsibilities, giving you further opportunities for growth and advancement in the industry.

7. Pride and Respect

The commercial fishing industry commands respect due to its long-standing traditions, hard work, and dedication. Fishermen are seen as hardworking individuals who contribute to the local economy and food supply. This pride and respect come from being part of a noble profession and community.

These are just a few of the many benefits that a commercial fishing career can provide. If you enjoy being outdoors, crave a job that takes advantage of your skills and personality, and want the opportunity for long-term success, then commercial fishing may be the path for you.

Understanding the Role of a Commercial Fisherman

1. Fishing Skills and Competencies

Being a successful commercial fisherman requires a set of specific skills and competencies. As a fisherman, you should have a good understanding of different fishing techniques and methods, such as longlining, seine fishing, or netting. You should also have knowledge of target species and their habits, as well as the ability to identify different types of fish.

2. Physical Fitness and Stamina

Working as a commercial fisherman can be physically demanding. You will spend long hours on your feet, often in harsh weather conditions, lifting heavy nets or gear, and hauling in large catches. Physical fitness and stamina are essential to perform the job effectively and safely.

3. Safety Training and Certification

Commercial fishing can be a dangerous occupation, so it’s crucial to have the necessary safety training and certification. Many states require fishermen to obtain a commercial fishing license or certification, which includes training in basic first aid, CPR, and water safety. These certifications ensure that you can handle emergencies while out at sea and protect yourself and others.

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4. Navigation and Seamanship

Being able to navigate the waters and understand seamanship is essential for a commercial fisherman. You should know how to read charts, use GPS systems, and operate navigational equipment effectively. Knowledge of tides, currents, navigational markers, and local regulations is also crucial to staying safe and finding productive fishing grounds.

5. Respect for Fisheries and Sustainability

Commercial fishermen have a responsibility to respect fisheries and practice sustainable fishing methods. It’s important to have a good understanding of the ecological impact of fishing and be knowledgeable about local regulations and seasonal fishing closures. By practicing responsible fishing, you help preserve fish stocks for future generations and maintain a healthy ecosystem.

6. Communication and Teamwork

Working on a commercial fishing boat often means being part of a team. Good communication and teamwork skills are essential for successful operations. Being able to effectively communicate with your fellow crew members, especially the skipper, is crucial for a smooth workflow and ensuring everyone’s safety.

7. Adaptability and Resilience

Being a commercial fisherman means dealing with unpredictable situations and constantly changing conditions. Weather, fish behavior, and market demands can all fluctuate. The ability to adapt to these changes and remain resilient is key to success in this industry. You should be prepared to handle the ups and downs that come with being a commercial fisherman.

Steps to Becoming a Commercial Fisherman

Step 1: Research the Fishery

Before diving knee-deep into the world of commercial fishing, it’s crucial to conduct thorough research on the fishery you’re interested in. Find out about the catch trends, job satisfaction, and any recent publications or journal articles related to the industry. Understanding the waters and the best fishing practices in a specific area will give you a better idea of what to expect.

Step 2: Get the Right Education

While a postsecondary degree isn’t a requirement for becoming a commercial fisherman, it can provide you with an academic edge. Look into courses or programs offered at vocational schools or colleges that focus on fisheries or marine sciences. These programs can teach you important techniques, regulations, and safety measures to follow in the field.

Step 3: Build Your Skills

Commercial fishing is a job that requires hands-on experience and practical skills. Look for opportunities to gain experience, such as working as a deckhand on fishing vessels or volunteering with local fisheries. This will help you familiarize yourself with the job and give you a chance to practice essential skills, such as using fishing gear, handling catches, and navigating the waters.

Step 4: Meet the Requirements

Step 5: Find a Skippers and Crews

Commercial fishing is often a team effort, and finding the right skipper and crew can make a significant difference in your career. Look for experienced fishermen who are willing to mentor and guide you. Building a positive relationship with your colleagues and showing respect for others’ expertise is important in such a close-knit industry.

Step 6: Stay Informed

Commercial fishing is a dynamic field, and it’s important to stay up to date with the latest trends, regulations, and fishing techniques. Subscribe to industry publications, follow fishing organizations on social media, and attend relevant workshops or seminars. Being knowledgeable and adaptable will help you navigate the challenges and changes in the industry.

Becoming a commercial fisherman requires a combination of passion, skill, and dedication. It’s a career that offers a unique experience of being out on the water, catching fish, and contributing to the fisheries industry. If you have what it takes, take the necessary steps to pursue this rewarding and challenging job.

Researching and Choosing the Right Fishing Industry

Here are some key steps to help you research and choose the right fishing industry:

1. Identify Your Skills and Competencies

Take the time to reflect on your own skills and competencies. What are you good at, and what traits make you suitable for a career in fishing? Whether it’s your physical strength, adaptability to weather conditions, or ability to work in a team, understanding your strengths will help you narrow down your options.

2. Gather Information about Different Fishing Industries

Research the different fishing industries to understand their core traits, competencies required, and job opportunities available. Look for publications, articles, and websites that provide information about each industry, such as fisheries, aquaculture, or fly-fishing. Consider reaching out to people in the industry through networking to gain insight.

3. Assess the Best Fishing Industry for You

Based on the information gathered, think about which fishing industry aligns best with your skills, interests, and personality. Consider factors such as job satisfaction, work environment, salary potential, and the level of danger involved. Keep in mind that some industries may require specific training or certifications.

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4. Stay Current with Industry Trends

The fishing industry is constantly evolving, with new technologies, regulations, and trends emerging. Stay ahead of the game by keeping up with industry publications, websites, and forums. This will not only help you understand where the industry is headed but also give you valuable insights into the current job market.

5. Pay Attention to the Job Requirements and Training

Once you have decided on a fishing industry, pay close attention to the job requirements and necessary training. Some positions, such as deckhands or skippers, may require specific skills or certifications. Research the training programs and institutions that offer the relevant courses to help you acquire the necessary skills and knowledge.

6. Consider the Fishing Opportunities in Different States

Some states offer better fishing opportunities than others. Research which states have abundant fishery resources and thriving fishing industries. Consider factors such as catch limits, fishery management practices, and the types of fish caught in those areas. This will help you choose a location that provides ample opportunities to catch a variety of fish.

7. Respect the Water and its Limits

Becoming a commercial fisherman requires not only technical skills but also a deep respect for the water and its limits. It is important to be mindful of sustainable fishing practices and adhere to regulations to ensure the long-term health of the fisheries. Stay informed about catch limits, fishing seasons, and conservation efforts to protect the marine ecosystem.

By researching and choosing the right fishing industry, you can better position yourself for a successful career as a commercial fisherman. Take the time to understand your own competencies, gather information about different industries, and consider factors such as job requirements, training programs, and industry trends. With the right preparation, you can set sail towards a colorful and fulfilling career in the fishing industry.

Acquiring the Necessary Skills and Experience

  1. Educate yourself about the fisheries industry: Before diving knee-deep into a commercial fishing career, take the time to learn about the industry as a whole. Read publications, attend seminars, and talk to experienced fishermen to get a sense of the trends, challenges, and opportunities in the field.
  2. Understand the physical requirements: Commercial fishing is a physically demanding job, so being in good physical shape is essential. Strong core strength and fitness are necessary to handle the physically demanding tasks and to endure long hours of work at sea.
  3. Obtain the necessary qualifications: Check the requirements of the national or state fisheries authorities to find out what qualifications you need. Some countries might require a specific degree or its equivalent, while others may have specific training programs offered.
  4. Gain hands-on experience: There’s no better way to learn about commercial fishing than by working with experienced fishermen. Try to find job opportunities as a deckhand or crew member to get hands-on experience and learn from seasoned skippers.
  5. Develop the right attitude and traits: Commercial fishing can be a dangerous and challenging profession, so having the right attitude and traits is essential. Be willing to work hard, be adaptable, show respect for the sea and the environment, and be a team player.
  6. Pay attention to safety: Safety should always be a top priority in commercial fishing. Stay informed about safety regulations, use proper safety equipment, and be aware of potential risks and hazards at all times.
  7. Prepare your resume: Make sure to highlight any relevant experience, skills, and qualifications on your resume. Emphasize your physical fitness, willingness to work hard, and ability to work well in a team.
  8. Look for funding opportunities: Commercial fishing can require significant upfront costs, such as purchasing or renting a fishing vessel. Explore funding options, such as loans or grants, that can help you start your fishing career.
  9. Stay informed about the industry: The fishing industry is constantly evolving, so staying up to date with the latest trends and regulations is important. Subscribe to industry publications, attend workshops or conferences, and network with other fishermen to stay informed.
  10. Always keep learning: Even experienced fishermen can benefit from continuous learning. Take courses or workshops to improve your knowledge and skills in areas such as navigation, fish handling, and fishing techniques.

By following these tips and acquiring the necessary skills and experience, you’ll be better prepared to embark on a successful career as a commercial fisherman. Remember, fishing isn’t just a job; it’s a way of life that requires dedication, hard work, and a deep respect for the sea.


What qualifications do you need to become a commercial fisherman?

To become a commercial fisherman, you generally do not need any specific qualifications. However, having a high school diploma or GED can be beneficial. Most of the training is done on the job, so prior experience is not always necessary.

Is it necessary to have a fishing license to become a commercial fisherman?

Yes, it is necessary to have a fishing license to become a commercial fisherman. The specific requirements for obtaining a fishing license vary depending on the location and type of fishing. You may need to pass a written exam and pay a fee to obtain the license.

What are the core competencies of a commercial fisherman?

The core competencies of a commercial fisherman include knowledge of different fishing techniques, navigation skills, boat handling, knowledge of marine regulations and safety protocols, physical stamina, ability to work in a team, and problem-solving skills. They should also have knowledge of different fish species and their habitats.

How physically demanding is the job of a commercial fisherman?

The job of a commercial fisherman can be highly physically demanding. The work involves lifting heavy nets or equipment, long hours of standing or working in adverse weather conditions, and repetitive tasks that require strength and endurance. It is important to be physically fit and able to withstand the physical demands of the job.

What are the qualifications to become a commercial fisherman?

To become a commercial fisherman, there are no specific qualifications required. However, it is helpful to have a good physical fitness, strong swimming abilities, and the ability to work long hours in sometimes harsh weather conditions.

What are the steps to becoming a commercial fisherman?

The steps to becoming a commercial fisherman can vary, but generally include: obtaining the necessary licenses and permits, gaining experience through working as a deckhand, familiarizing yourself with fishing equipment and techniques, and building a network within the industry to find job opportunities.

Dave Pennells

By Dave Pennells

Dave Pennells, MS, has contributed his expertise as a career consultant and training specialist across various fields for over 15 years. At City University of Seattle, he offers personal career counseling and conducts workshops focused on practical job search techniques, resume creation, and interview skills. With a Master of Science in Counseling, Pennells specializes in career consulting, conducting career assessments, guiding career transitions, and providing outplacement services. Her professional experience spans multiple sectors, including banking, retail, airlines, non-profit organizations, and the aerospace industry. Additionally, since 2001, he has been actively involved with the Career Development Association of Australia.