Commercial fishing is the activity of catching and marketing fish and other seafood for profit. Commercial fishers harvest a wide variety of animals, ranging from tuna, cod, and salmon to shrimp, krill, lobster, crab, clams, and squid. A commercial fishing business may vary from one individual with a small boat, to a huge fleet of trawlers processing tons of fish every day. Fishing methods vary in scale and operation according to the region, the species being fished for, and the technology available. Commercial fishing gear may include surrounding nets (e.g. purse seine), trawls (e.g. bottom trawl), dredges, hooks and lines (e.g. long line), gillnets, and traps. Sustainability of fisheries is improved by using additional equipment that eliminates or minimizes catching non-targeted species ( bycatch ).
Commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous occupations. The United States is a global leader in responsibly managed fisheries and the sustainable seafood industry provides over one million jobs. Commercial fishing is often a family tradition where multiple generations learn the trade and pass down their knowledge.
- Traditionally, a commercial fisher acquires their occupational skills on the job, and thus, there are no formal education requirements for this career. However, some form of undergraduate degree (2- or 4-year) would be useful. This is especially important if one decides to leave the fishing industry.
- Although a degree is not necessarily required to become a commercial fisher, captains and other members of the crew must be licensed and obtain fishing permits and other documentation. Captains and mates of large commercial fishing vessels are required to complete a Coast Guard-approved training course and must be licensed.
Tasks and Duties
There are many different positions on a commercial fishing boat:
- Operate fishing gear
- Extract and sort the catch discarding undesirable or illegal catches to the water
- Responsible for keeping the decks clear and clean
- Make sure vessel’s engines and equipment in good working order
- Upon return to port, they secure the vessel’s lines to and from the docks and may be responsible for unloading the catch.
- A highly experienced deckhand with supervisory responsibilities; directs the deckhands as they carry out fishing operations.
- When necessary, boatswains repair fishing gear, equipment, and accessories
- Operate the fishing gear, and help to extract and sort the catch.
- The captain’s assistant.
- Must be familiar with navigational requirements and the operation of all electronic equipment, as s/he assumes control of the vessel when the captain is off duty.
- Primary responsibility (with the help of the boatswain and under the captain’s oversight) is to direct fishing operations including:
- The operation, maintenance, and repair of the vessel
- The gathering, preservation, stowing, and unloading of the catch.
Plans and oversees:
- The fishing operation
- The fish to be sought
- The location of the best fishing grounds
- The method of capture
- The duration of the trip,
- The sale of the catch.
- Purchase of supplies, gear, and equipment
- Ensures that the fishing vessel is seaworthy
- Obtains the required fishing permits and licenses
- Hires qualified crewmembers and assigns their duties.
Knowledge and Skills
Fishermen must be in good health and possess physical strength. They work under some of the most hazardous conditions of any occupation.
Must be knowledgeable in:
- Vessel operations
- Marine safety
- Vessel repair and maintenance
- Fishing gear technology
- Marine biology/ fisheries science
Basic skills include:
- Mechanical aptitude
- Vessel operations and maintenance
- Fisheries equipment operations and maintenance
- Knowledge of fisheries regulations, permits, and catch protocols
- Measure catch to ensure compliance with legal size
- Maintain catch records/logs
- Ability to work under difficult or dangerous conditions
Additional basic skills may include:
- Interpersonal skills
- Ability to cooperate and collaborate with others
Connections to Underwater Acoustics
Acoustics is used with the many technologies employed on a commercial fishing vessel. Ships use radar and sonar to avoid obstacles above and below the water. The most common of these sonar systems is the echosounder. Here, a transducer emits sound pulses straight down into the water, and these pulses reflect off the seafloor and return to the transducer. The sound pulses are sent out regularly as the ship moves. The faster the sound pulses return to the transducer, the shallower the water depth and higher the elevation of the sea floor. A computer picks up the return signal and converts it to a line on a computer screen showing the depth of the ocean beneath the ship.
Fish finders also use sonar and allow fishers to better locate and analyze schools of fish. A transducer, attached or towed by a boat, sends out a signal, which reflects off the air in the swim bladder of a fish or the fish itself. A computer will pick up the return signal and convert it into fish images on a screen. The bottom again appears as a continuous line drawn across the display, and any other objects that are in the water may also be displayed.
Example of someone in this career
Michael Marchetti has been fishing commercially since his early high school days digging quahogs, lobstering from a skiff on Point Judith Pond, as well as lumping trawlers to pay his way through the University of Rhode Island. He currently fishes for sea scallops on the 50′ Novi F/V Mister G year round, and also lobsters and pot fishes for scup and sea bass on his 40′ Novi F/V Captain Robert in the summer. Michael also has many side projects ranging from scallop Research Set-Aside Programs (RSAs) (with the Coonamessett Farms Foundation for turtle dredge design for groundfish bycatch mitigation), to the characterization of the Southern New England dayboat scallop fleet bycatch with the University of Rhode Island University of Massachusetts’ School for Marine Science and Technology). A snowplow/sanding business with a couple trucks fills the winter times when the weather is not fishable. Michael is/has been an advisor to the Northeast Fisheries Management Council (NEFMC) for sea scallops for 9 years. He is also a former President of the RI Lobstermens Association and a founding member and former President of the Point Judith Fishermen’s Memorial Foundation and Michael is a founder and current President of the Eastern New England Scallop Association, representing small dayboat scallopers in the southern New England region. Michael has also been involved in many side science projects ranging from scallop RSA’s to dredge dumpsite disposal issues, ventless lobster traps, benthic surveys for the RI Ocean Special Area Management Plan (OSAMP) and windfarms. Michael is also involved with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, (WHOI), NRAC, the United States Division of Agriculture (USDA) and the American Mussel Harvesters to make a feasible aquaculture offshore mussel longline farm.
- Biological Oceanographer
- Fish and Game Warden
- Fisheries Observer
- Fisheries Scientist
- Marine Biologist
- Marine Resource Manager|
People and Sound
- Navigation > How is sound used to navigate underwater?
- Fishing > How is sound used to locate fish?
- Investigate Marine Mammals > How is sound used to study the distribution of marine fishes?
- Navigation > Navigation
- Observing and Monitoring Marine Animals > Acoustic Fish Tags
US Bureau of Labor Statistics: Fishers and Related Fishing Workers
OceanCareers.com, Ship Captains
Sea Grant, Marine Careers: Commercial Fishermen Profile: David T. Goethel
NOAA, FishWatch: US Fisheries
NMFS: Voices of The Fisheries