What does a Commercial Fisherman do?

What is a Commercial Fisherman?

A commercial fisherman is someone who catches and traps various types of marine life. The fish they catch are for human food, animal feed, bait and other uses.

What does a Commercial Fisherman do?

Commercial fishermen typically do the following:

  • Locate fish using fish-finding equipment
  • Direct fishing operations and supervise crew
  • Steer vessels and operate navigational instruments
  • Maintain engines, fishing gear, and other onboard equipment by doing minor repairs
  • Sort, pack, and store catch in holds with salt and ice
  • Measure fish to ensure they comply with legal size
  • Return undesirable or illegal catches to the water
  • Guide nets, traps, and lines onto vessels by hand or using hoisting equipment
  • Signal other workers to move, hoist, and position loads.

To plot the ship's course, fishing boat captains use compasses, charts, and electronic navigational equipment, including global positioning systems (GPS). They also use radar and sonar to avoid obstacles above and below the water and to find fish. Some fishers work in deep water on large fishing boats that are equipped for long stays at sea. Some process the fish they catch on board and prepare them for sale.

Other fishermen work in shallow water on small boats that often have a crew of only one or two members. They might put nets across the mouths of rivers or inlets or pots and traps for fish or shellfish, such as lobsters and crabs, or use dredges to gather other shellfish, such as oysters and scallops. A small portion of commercial fishing requires diving with diving suits or scuba gear. These divers use spears to catch fish and nets to gather shellfish, sea urchins, abalone, and sponges. Some fishers harvest marine vegetation rather than fish. They use rakes and hoes to gather Irish moss and kelp. Although most fishers work in commercial fishing, some in this occupation use their expertise in sport or recreational fishing.

The fishing boat captain plans and oversees the fishing operation, fish to be sought, location of the best fishing grounds, method of capture, duration of the trip, and sale of the catch. Captains direct the fishing operation and record daily activities in the ship’s log. Increasingly, they use the Internet to bypass processors and sell fish directly to consumers, grocery stores, and restaurants.

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How to become a Commercial Fisherman

Fishing operations are conducted under various environmental conditions, depending on the region, body of water, and kinds of fish sought. Storms, fog, and wind may hamper fishing vessels or cause them to suspend fishing operations and return to port. Sometimes the work environment can be unpleasant or dangerous.

What is the workplace of a Commercial Fisherman like?

Commercial fishermen usually learn on the job. No formal education is required. They start by finding work through family or friends, or simply by walking around the docks and asking for employment.

Although formal education is not required to be a fisherman, by enrolling in two-year vocational-technical programs offered by some high schools, fishers can improve their chances of getting a job. 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 fishing gear technology. Secondary and postsecondary programs are typically near coastal areas and include hands-on experience.

Experienced fishers may find short-term workshops especially useful. These workshops generally are offered through postsecondary institutions and provide a good working knowledge of electronic equipment used in navigation and communication.

Commercial fishers must measure the quality of their catch, which requires precision and accuracy. They reach conclusions through sound reasoning and judgment. They determine how to improve the catch and must react appropriately to weather conditions.

Commercial fishers need to work well with others—they take instructions from captains and others—so effective listening is critical. They must be able to operate complex fishing machinery competently and occasionally do routine maintenance. They must have hand dexterity, physical strength, and coordination to perform difficult tasks repeatedly. They also must be able to work long hours, often in strenuous conditions.

Experienced, reliable fishing boat deckhands can become boatswains, then second mates, first mates, and, finally, captains. Those who are interested in ship engineering may get experience with maintaining and repairing ship engines to become licensed chief engineers on large commercial boats. That requires meeting the Coast Guard's licensing requirements. Almost all captains are self-employed, and most eventually own, or partially own, one or more fishing boats.

Some larger trawlers and processing ships are run by larger companies, in which new workers can apply through the companies’ human resources department. Operators of large commercial fishing vessels must complete a Coast Guard-approved training course.