How to Become a Commercial Fisherman

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If you have the stamina, the drive and the love of being outdoors, then being a commercial fisherman may be the perfect job for you.  It is a tough profession, spending hours and days on a boat with little in the way of comforts.  It is also far more challenging than fishing as a hobby but if you feel you are up for it, then read on to understand more about what you need to do.

Why become a commercial fisherman?

People often ask why become a commercial fisherman?  There are lots of reasons including the love of the outdoors, the chance to physically challenge yourself, a love of the ocean.  Another strong reason is simple – you can make good money at it.  It isn’t easy money, but it can be profitable, and you can make a good amount of money over a short time – that’s why people often do it alongside other jobs.

Seasonal fisherman, for example, fish in certain areas during certain seasons when they know that the fish are available.  This is the kind of job where you might spend two months as a commercial fisherman and then the rest of the year doing something else.


To work as a fisherman in the UK, you need to take formal safety training and have certificates to prove that you’ve done this before you can start the work.  The basic training is specific to the fishing industry and covers the following basic areas:

  • Basic sea survival
  • Basic fire fighting and prevention
  • Basic first aid
  • Basic health and safety

You must complete the Basic Sea Survival source before going to sea the first time and the other three courses need to be complete with three months of starting in the role.  Once you have two years’ experience, you need to attend a Safety Awareness and Risk Assessment course which is offered by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

Licenses and certificates

The Certificate of Competency or CoC rules in the UK is based on the size or power of a fishing vessel and its area of operation.  For example, as a skipper, mate or engineer on a vessel of 16.5 meters or above or 750 kilowatts, you need an MCA CoC.  This is awarded after assessment and examination which includes practical, written and oral components.  You also need to make sure to register your boat and cover all the requirements and responsibilities for the crew on the ship.

In other countries, such as the US, there are also several licensing requirements for fisherman based on the location and their career title.  Commercial captains, for example, need more licenses than someone working as crew.  Some states also have regulations based on where you will be fishing – near the shore, for example, requires a merchant mariners’ license in some states.  Other require individual permits even if you are working for someone else.

How to be good at it

Fishing is often a family business with sons and daughters taking over from their fathers.  Crews can sometimes be all from members of a family, but this doesn’t mean they don’t take on new members.  The way to be good at the job is to get some vocational training and start doing the job – this is a role where you can’t learn it in the classroom.  You need to also learn about the kinds of equipment and technology that are used on commercial fishing boats even if you won’t be the one using it at first.

Finding a job can be done in two main ways – either by going to fishing docks and chatting with the fishermen themselves to see if any jobs are available.  Or by using specialist job boards where you can find vacancies and how to apply.  Experience is great but there are often roles for new starters as well – everyone must start somewhere.



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