Fishing and Hunting Workers

Career, Salary and Education Information

What Fishing and Hunting Workers Do[About this section] [To Top]

Fishing and hunting workers catch and trap various types of animal life. The fish and wild animals they catch are for human food, animal feed, bait, and other uses.

Duties of Fishing and Hunting Workers

Fishers and related fishing workers typically do the following:

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

Hunters and trappers typically do the following:

  • Locate wild animals with the use of animal-finding equipment
  • Catch wild animals with weapons, such as rifles or bows, or with traps like snares
  • Sort, pack, and store the catch with ice and other freezing methods
  • Follow hunting regulations, which vary by state and always include a safety component
  • Sell what they catch for food and decorative purposes

To plot a ship’s course, fishing boat captains use electronic navigational equipment, including global positioning systems (GPSs), as well as compasses and charts. 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 catch on board and prepare the fish for sale.

Other fishers work in shallow water on small boats that often have a crew of only one or two. They might put nets across the mouths of rivers or inlets; use pots and traps to catch 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.

Fishers work in commercial fishing, which does not include recreational fishing. For more information on workers on boats that handle fishing charters, see the profile on water transportation workers.

Aquaculture—raising and harvesting fish and other aquatic life under controlled conditions in ponds or confined bodies of water—is a different field. For more information, see the profile on farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers.

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

Fishers that specialize in catching certain species include crabbers and lobster catchers.

Hunters and trappers locate wild animals with GPS instruments, compasses, charts, and whistles. They then catch and kill them with weapons or traps. Hunters and trappers sell the wild animals they catch, either for food or decorative purposes.

Work Environment for Fishing and Hunting Workers[About this section] [To Top]

Fishing and hunting workers held about 28,400 jobs in 2014. Approximately 3 out of 5 fishers and hunting workers were self-employed in 2014. Fishing and hunting operations are conducted under various environmental conditions, depending on the geographic region, body of water or land, and kinds of animals sought. Storms, fog, and wind may hamper fishing vessels or cause them to suspend fishing operations and return to port.

Although fishing gear has improved and operations have become more mechanized, netting and processing fish are nonetheless strenuous activities. Newer vessels have improved living quarters and amenities, but crews still experience the aggravations of confined quarters and the absence of family.

Injuries and Illnesses

Commercial fishing and hunting can be dangerous and can lead to workplace injuries or fatalities. Fishing and hunting workers often work under hazardous conditions. Transportation to a hospital or doctor is often not readily available for these workers since they be out at sea or in a remote area.

Most fatalities that happen to fishers and related fishing workers are from drowning. The crew must guard against the danger of injury from malfunctioning fishing gear, entanglement in fishing nets and gear, slippery decks, ice formation, or large waves washing over the deck. Malfunctioning navigation and communication equipment and other factors may lead to collisions, shipwrecks, or other dangerous situations, such as vessels becoming caught in storms. For more information on injuries and fatalities of fishers and fishing related works, read the Bureau of Labor Statistics Beyond the Numbers article “Facts of the catch: occupational injuries, illnesses, and fatalities to fishing workers, 2003–2009.”

Hunters and trappers have fewer injuries and fatalities than fishers, and most of them are accidents related to the weapons and traps they use. Hunters and trappers minimize injury by wearing the appropriate gear, and following detailed safety procedures. Specific safety guidelines vary by state.

Fishing and Hunting Worker Work Schedules

Fishing and hunting workers endure strenuous outdoor work and long hours. Commercial fishing trips may require workers to be away from their home port for several weeks or months.

Many fishers are seasonal workers, and those jobs are usually filled by students and by people from other occupations who are available for seasonal work, such as teachers. For example, employment of fishers in Alaska increases significantly during the summer months, which constitute the salmon season. During these times, fishers can expect to work long hours. Additionally, states may only allow hunters and trappers to hunt or trap during certain times of the year depending on the type of wild animals sought.

How to Become a Fishing or Hunting Worker[About this section] [To Top]

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Fishing and hunting workers usually learn on the job. A formal educational credential is not required.

Fishing and Hunting Worker Education

A formal educational credential is not required for one to become fishing or hunting worker. However, fishers may improve their chances of getting a job by enrolling in a 2-year vocational–technical program. 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. These programs are typically located near coastal areas and include hands-on experience.

Fishing and Hunting Worker Training

Most fishing and hunting workers learn on the job. They first learn how to sort and clean the animals they catch. Fishers would go on to learn to operate the boat and fishing equipment.

Many prospective fishers start by finding work through family or friends, or simply by walking around the docks and asking for employment. Aspiring fishers also can look online for employment. Some larger trawlers and processing ships are run by big fishing companies with human resources departments to which new workers can apply. Operators of large commercial fishing vessels must complete a training course approved by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Important Qualities for Fishing and Hunting Workers

Critical-thinking skills. Fishing and hunting workers must reach conclusions through sound reasoning and judgment. They determine how to improve their catch and must react appropriately to weather conditions.

Detail oriented. Fishing and hunting workers must be precise and accurate when measuring the quality of their catch or prey. They must also pay attention to detail when working with various fishing gear so as to guard against injury.

Listening skills. Because they take instructions from captains and other crew members or hunters, fishing and hunting workers need to communicate well with others. Therefore, effective listening is critical to these workers.

Machine operation skills. Fishing and hunting workers must be able to operate, and perform routine maintenance on, complex fishing and navigation machinery, as well as weapons and traps.

Physical stamina. Fishing and hunting workers need endurance. They must be able to work long hours, often under strenuous conditions.

Physical strength. Fishing and hunting workers must use physical strength, along with hand dexterity and coordination, to perform difficult tasks repeatedly.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Captains of fishing boats and hunters and trappers must be licensed.

Crew members on certain fish-processing vessels may need a merchant mariner’s document. The U.S. Coast Guard issues these documents, as well as licenses, to people who meet specific health, physical, and academic requirements.

States set licensing requirements for boats operating in state waters, defined as inland waters and waters within 3 miles of the coast.

Fishers need a permit to fish in almost any water. Permits are distributed by states for state waters and by regional fishing councils for federal waters. The permits specify the fishing season, the type and amount of fish that may be caught, and, sometimes, the type of permissible fishing gear.

Hunters and trappers need a license from states to hunt in any land or forest. Licenses specify the hunting season, the type and amount of wild animals that may be caught, and the type of weapons or traps that can be used.

Advancement for Fishing and Hunting Workers

Experienced, reliable fishing boat deckhands can become boatswains, then second mates, first mates, and, finally, captains. Those who are interested in ship engineering may gain experience with maintaining and repairing ship engines to become licensed chief engineers on large commercial boats. In doing so, they must meet the Coast Guard’s licensing requirements as well. For more information, see the profile on water transportation workers.

Almost all captains are self-employed, and most eventually own, or partially own, one or more fishing boats. Most hunters and trappers are also self-employed.

Fishing and Hunting Worker Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

Fishing and hunting workers endure strenuous outdoor work and long hours. Commercial fishing trips may require workers to be away from their home port for several weeks or months.

Many fishers are seasonal workers, and those jobs are usually filled by students and by people from other occupations who are available for seasonal work, such as teachers. For example, employment of fishers in Alaska increases significantly during the summer months, which constitute the salmon season. During these times, fishers can expect to work long hours. Additionally, states may only allow hunters and trappers to hunt or trap during certain times of the year.

Job Outlook for Fishing and Hunting Workers[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of fishing and hunting workers is projected is projected to show little or no change from 2014 to 2024. Fishing and hunting workers depend on the ability of fish stocks and wild animals to reproduce and grow. Government regulation, such as catch limits and quotas, can affect the number of fish stocks and the supply of animals available for fishing and hunting.

In order to conserve the fish population in the coming years, the need for setting catch limits has risen. Governmental efforts to replenish stocks are getting some positive results, which could lead to increased fish stocks in the future. The U.S. government sets catch limits for every species it manages. One way the government regulates fisheries is through catch shares, a type of quota that dictates how many fish each fisher may catch and keep. However, depending on the quantity allowed or the type of fish that is caught, purchasing additional quotas can be expensive and may therefore have a negative impact on fishing employment. Similarly, reliance on farm-raised livestock will lessen the demand for meat that is caught in the wild, reducing demand for hunters and trappers.

Although improvements in fishing gear and vessel design have increased fish hauls, rising seafood imports are affecting fishing income and causing some fishers to leave the industry. However, because competition from imported seafood tends to be concentrated in specific species, some regions are more affected than others.

Fishing and Hunting Workers Job Prospects

Most job openings will result from the need to replace fishing and hunting workers who leave the occupation. Many workers leave because of the strenuous and hazardous nature of the job and the lack of a steady year-round income. The best prospects should be with large fishing operations and for seasonal employment.

Employment projections data for Fishing and Hunting Workers, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Fishing and hunting workers 28,400 28,200 -1 -200


*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

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