Fishing and hunting workers held about 39,400 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of fishing and hunting workers were as follows:
|Fishing, hunting and trapping||52%|
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 because they can be out at sea or in a remote area.
And although fatalities are uncommon, fishing and hunting workers experience one of the highest rates of occupational fatalities of all occupations.
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 Beyond the Numbers article “Facts of the catch: occupational injuries, illnesses, and fatalities to fishing workers, 2003–2009.”
Hunting accidents can occur because of the weapons and traps these workers 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 workers often endure long shifts and irregular work schedules. 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.
Fishing and hunting workers usually learn on the job. A formal educational credential is not required.
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.
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 how 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.
Most hunters and trappers have previous recreational hunting experience.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Captains of fishing boats and hunters and trappers must be licensed.
Crewmembers 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 state license 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.
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.
Fishers and related fishing workers typically have an interest in the Building interest area, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things.
If you are not sure whether you have a Building interest which might fit with a career as a fisher and related fishing worker, you can take a career test to measure your interests.
Fishers and related fishing workers should also possess the following specific qualities:
Analytical skills. Fishers and related fishing workers must measure the quality of their catch, which requires precision and accuracy.
Critical-thinking skills. Fishers and related fishing workers reach conclusions through sound reasoning and judgment. They determine how to improve the catch and must react appropriately to weather conditions.
Listening skills. Fishers and related fishing workers need to work well with others—they take instructions from captains and others—so effective listening is critical.
Machine operation skills. Fishers and related fishing workers must be able to operate complex fishing machinery competently and occasionally do routine maintenance.
Navigation skills. Fishers and related fishing workers must use complex tools to navigate boats to where the highest concentration of fish is located.
Physical stamina. Fishers and related fishing workers must be able to work long hours, often in strenuous conditions.
Physical strength. Fishers and related fishing workers must use physical strength along with hand dexterity and coordination to perform difficult tasks repeatedly.
Wage data reported for this occupation were updated most recently in May 2017.
The median annual wage for fishing and hunting workers was $28,530 in May 2017. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $18,710, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $48,170.
Fishers are typically paid a percentage of the boat’s overall catch, commonly referred to as a crew share. The more fish that are caught, the greater the crew share becomes. This can lead to unpredictable swings in pay from one season to another, as the overall catch can vary. More experienced crewmembers often receive a greater share compared to entry-level workers.
Trappers are typically paid per pelt, and the amount received can vary depending on the species and the quality of the fur. For example, trappers typically receive more for coyote pelts than for smaller species, such as muskrats.
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.
Employment of fishing and hunting workers is projected to decline 2 percent from 2018 to 2028. Fishing and hunting workers depend on the ability of fish stocks and wild animals to reproduce and grow.
Governmental efforts to replenish fish stocks have led to some species being regulated under fishing quotas or catch shares. These quotas dictate how many fish each fisher may catch and keep. Additional quotas or catch shares can typically be purchased, but they are often very expensive. The implementation of additional catch share programs may reduce demand for fishers. However, new programs must undergo several years of research and public review before being approved.
Animal pelts will continue be used to manufacture fur coats, hats, and gloves, which may increase demand for trappers. However, the majority of fur used in clothing comes from ranches or farms that breed, maintain, and harvest desirable species, such as mink.
Many 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.
For more information about licensing of fishing boat captains and about requirements for merchant mariner documentation, visit
For more information about hunting licenses, visit