Fishers usually acquire their occupational skills on the job, many as members of families involved in fishing activities. No formal academic requirements exist. Operators of large commercial fishing vessels are required to complete a Coast Guard-approved training course. Students can expedite their entrance into these occupations by enrolling in 2-year vocational-technical programs offered by secondary schools. 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 maintenance, health emergencies, and fishing gear technology. Courses include hands-on experience. Secondary and postsecondary programs are normally offered in or near coastal areas.
Experienced fishers may find short-term workshops offered through various postsecondary institutions especially useful. These programs provide a good working knowledge of electronic equipment used in navigation and communication and offer the latest improvements in fishing gear.
Captains and mates on large fishing vessels of at least 200 gross tons must be licensed. Captains of sportfishing boats used for charter, regardless of the boats’ size, must also be licensed. Crew members on certain fish-processing vessels may need a merchant mariner’s document. The U.S. Coast Guard issues these documents and licenses to individuals who meet the stipulated health, physical, and academic requirements. (For information about merchant marine occupations, see the statement on water transportation occupations
elsewhere in the Handbook.)
Fishers must be in good health and possess physical strength. Good coordination, mechanical aptitude, and the ability to work under difficult or dangerous conditions are necessary to operate, maintain, and repair equipment and fishing gear. Fishers need stamina to work long hours at sea, often under difficult conditions. On large vessels, they must be able to work as members of a team. Fishers must be patient, yet always alert, to overcome the boredom of long watches when they are not engaged in fishing operations. The ability to assume any deckhand’s functions on short notice is important. As supervisors, mates must be able to assume all duties, including the captain’s, when necessary. The captain must be highly experienced, mature, and decisive and also must possess the business skills needed to run business operations.
On fishing vessels, most fishers begin as deckhands. Deckhands who acquire experience and whose interests are in ship engineering—the maintenance and repair of ship engines and equipment—can eventually become licensed chief engineers on large commercial vessels after meeting the Coast Guard’s experience, physical, and academic requirements. Experienced, reliable deckhands who display supervisory qualities may become boatswains, who, in turn, may become second mates, first mates, and, finally, captains. Almost all captains become self-employed, and the overwhelming majority eventually own, or have an interest in, one or more fishing ships. Some may choose to run a sport or recreational fishing operation. When their seagoing days are over, experienced individuals may work in or, with the necessary capital, own stores selling fishing and marine equipment and supplies. Some captains may assume advisory or administrative positions in industry trade associations or government offices, such as harbor development commissions, or in teaching positions in industry-sponsored workshops or educational institutions. Divers in fishing operations can enter a commercial diving activity—for example, repairing ships or maintaining piers and marinas—usually after the completion of a certified training program sponsored by an educational institution or industry association.