What is a Commercial Fishing Degree?

Commercial fishermen and fisherwomen often learn on the job. Many are part of families who have operated a commercial fishing boat for generations. Some vocational and technical schools, however, do offer training in the field that prepares students to run and/or work on fishing boats. The typical curriculum covers the following:

  • Seamanship / Maritime traditions
  • Navigation
  • Marine law
  • Marine safety
  • Fishing boat and fishing equipment operations
  • Fishing boat and fishing equipment maintenance and repair
  • Catch identification, sorting, and storage
  • First aid

Program Options

There are three primary ways to become qualified as a commercial fisherman / fisherwoman:

Family Business Succession – Variable Duration
This route to working in the commercial fishing industry can begin as a child. Many of these children follow a parent or parents into the business, which has been operating for a generation or longer.

Walking the Docks / On the Job – Variable Duration
Many aspiring fishermen and fisherwomen who do not have a family or friend connection to the commercial fishing industry quite literally ‘walk the docks’ to find commercial fishing jobs. They ask boat owners to give them a chance. They learn on the job.

Diploma / Certificate in Commercial Fishing – Up to Two Year Duration
Diploma or certificate programs in commercial fishing, offered by some vocational and technical schools, prepare students for employment as a fishing vessel crew member or captain. Many schools have a minimum age requirement of 16. After successfully completing one of these programs, students are able to perform the following:

  • Unlock and get a vessel underway
  • Dock a vessel
  • Operate a vessel at sea
  • Maneuver around offshore structures
  • Anchor vessel
  • Manage and perform cargo-handling duties
  • Perform boat deckhand duties
  • Perform net fisher duties
  • Perform pot fisher duties
  • Perform line fisher duties
  • Bring vessel into port
  • Perform crew operational and maintenance duties aboard a vessel in port
  • Prepare meals aboard vessel
  • Plan and perform emergency procedures
  • Identify catch (examples: tuna, cod, salmon, halibut, shrimp, lobster, squid, crab)
  • Load, clean, and preserve catch
  • Unload catch
  • Manage adverse weather conditions
  • Demonstrate appropriate communication skills
  • Demonstrate appropriate math skills
  • Demonstrate appropriate understanding of basic science
  • Demonstrate employability skills
  • Demonstrate an understanding of entrepreneurship

Instruction modules include classroom time, hands-on practical sessions, visits to relevant locations like fish processing plants and fish markets, and the following four mandatory courses which award basic safety certificates:

Sea Survival

  • Emergencies: collision, fire, sinking
  • Locating and using life-saving equipment carried on commercial fishing boats and survival craft
  • Locating and putting on a life jacket
  • Putting on an immersion suit
  • Safely jumping from a height into the water
  • Righting an inverted life raft while wearing a life jacket
  • Taking initial actions on boarding a life raft to enhance chance of survival
  • Streaming a drogue or sea anchor
  • Bringing aboard an injured person
  • Group survival exercise

Fire Fighting

  • Understanding how a fire starts and spreads
  • Understanding the cause of explosions
  • Actions to be taken on discovering a fire or hearing the alarm
  • Fire-fighting systems on board
  • Different types and correct use of extinguishers
  • Correct measures for casualty search, rescue, and recovery

First Aid

  • Knowledge and proficiency in basic first aid
  • Assessing the needs of the casualty and your own safety
  • Appreciation of body structure and functions
  • Understanding the immediate measures to be taken in case of an emergency
  • Positioning a casualty – Applying resuscitation techniques – Controlling bleeding – Basic shock management
  • Understanding Hypothermia and subsequent treatment
  • Applying appropriate measures in event of burns and scalds
  • Rescue and transport of a casualty
  • Improvising bandages and using your emergency kit

Health and Safety

  • Safety equipment and clothing
  • Accident prevention
  • Understanding onboard orders and communications

Degrees Similar to Commercial Fishing

Aquaculture is about the breeding, raising, and harvesting of fish, shellfish, and aquatic plants for environmentally responsible production of healthy food. In other words, it’s farming in water or ‘aquafarming.’ There are two main types of aquaculture. Marine aquaculture refers to farming species that live in the ocean and estuaries. Freshwater aquaculture refers to farming species that live in ponds, reservoirs, lakes, rivers, and other inland waterways.

Fisheries Sciences and Management
Fishing and fisheries sciences and management degree programs focus on the biology and ecology of fish and shellfish. Students of the field learn about fisheries protection, production, and management. In short, the objective of these programs is to provide students with the knowledge and skills required to maintain long-term sustainable harvesting.

Marine Biology
Students who earn a degree in marine biology study marine organisms and their behaviors and interactions with the environment.

Marine Science
Degree programs in marine sciences teach students about all aspects of the ocean. Classes cover marine biology, marine chemistry, marine geology, and marine geophysics.

Merchant Marine Officer
Merchant marine training programs prepare students for careers as captains and engineers on commercially licensed in-land, coastal, and ocean-going vessels. Coursework covers maritime law, commercial marine operations, naval engineering, geography, and crew supervision.

Navy or Marine ROTC
The Navy ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) program combines a university undergraduate or graduate degree curriculum with the Navy ROTC (NROTC) curriculum. It is offered at more than 1,100 accredited colleges and universities throughout the US. Midshipmen who pursue and receive an NROTC scholarship must fulfill the requirements of both their selected degree program and the military studies and leadership labs administered by the Navy.

The Marines do not have their own Marine ROTC program. Aspiring Marines take part in the Navy ROTC ‘Marine option.’

The oceans cover almost 70% of the Earth. Oceanographers study the oceans and their complex relationships with the planet. They are concerned with marine organisms, the ocean’s chemical composition, the structure of the ocean floor, the movements of the ocean, design of technology for ocean exploration, and policy that protects the oceans.

Professional Diving and Instruction
Programs in professional diving and instruction train students to work as deep-water or scuba divers or dive instructors. Courses cover the use of diving gear and equipment, diving safety, underwater communication, decompression systems, and underwater salvage and rescue.

Skills You’ll Learn

Learning to become a fisherman or fisherwoman provides students with more than just knowledge of seamanship and skills like repairing commercial fishing nets. The process also leaves them with these skills that are transferable to other kinds of work:

  • Ability to monitor gauges and other indicators to ensure a machine is operating properly
  • Ability to operate and perform routine maintenance on complex equipment
  • Ability to think on one’s feet, to adapt to changing situations
  • Capacity to follow instructions
  • Capacity to work under sometimes strenuous conditions, such as severe weather
  • Manual dexterity
  • Physical stamina
  • Safety awareness
  • Stress tolerance
  • Teamwork
  • Time management

What Can You Do with a Commercial Fishing Degree?

Because of the distinct skills that commercial fishing requires, most graduates in the field work in roles that are directly related to their training. Here are some of the common occupational categories:

Commercial Fishing / Independent Commercial Fishing Boats
Positions include boat deckhands, boatswains, second mates, first mates, captains, and chief engineers.

Processing Vessels
In some areas, fish processing vessels are run by fish processing companies or governments.

Coast Guard Fisheries
Fisheries positions with the Coast Guard may require additional training, but a background in commercial fishing is seen as valuable asset.

Fishing and Aquaculture
In this sector opportunities may exist as hatchery and fish farming specialists.


Find out what graduates typically earn.

Read about Salary