Home Fishing Tips & Advice How Much Do Commercial Fishermen Make?

How Much Do Commercial Fishermen Make?

A life out at sea doesn’t sound too bad for some of us. Making a living as a fisherman is quite appealing as it allows you to do what you love for a living with industrial equipment in some of the most interesting situations. For anyone who loves to fish and is good at it, the question remains, why aren’t you getting paid to do it? Many anglers have turned their sights towards a career at sea and begun the adventure that is commercial fishing.

Interest in the fishing industry is at an all time high as more and more anglers are turning to the commercial side of the hobby they love. Before you start your career as a fisherman, it’s important to know the logistics of the job first. No matter how much we love something, if we’re not making enough money to support ourselves and our family, it might not be the career meant for you. So how much do commercial fishermen make annually?

Before we answer that, it’s important for you to know that the figures vary quite rapidly as factors change and statistics grow. What could be the annual average one year could be the top 10% the next. Many factors go into how much a fisherman will make that year and it’s constantly ebbing and flowing like the waters they’re fishing. Before you know how much you’ll make, you’ll need to make note of your surroundings and what specifics your job will be offering.

National Average Salary for Fishermen

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017, the annual average salary for fishermen was $28,530 with the top 10% making $48,170 and the bottom 10% earning no more than $18,710. Though this data is from 2017, this is the last time that wage reports were filed. The page listing this information has since been updated so it could still stand as the national average, but some reports have listed the median earnings closer to $48,000 per year.

As the fishing and hunting industry – this is the category that official bureaus list fishermen in – tends to be rather volatile and constantly shifting, there is no way to completely tell how much you’ll be making without doing a little research yourself on where you’ll be fishing. The industry average in your location could be well above the national average and you might see annual salaries pushing six figures. It all depends on your situation.

Different wage reporting sites like ZipRecruiter list the average annual salary for fishermen at about $53,767 per year which is a major spike compared to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s 2017 report. This goes to show you that there is no set number and in only three years, the average pay jumped by almost $30,000. The salary for fishermen is difficult to pin down without knowing your exact situation and what your company plans on offering you.

Different Locations Host Different Salaries

When you’re looking in your area for a steady fishing gig, you’ll need to make note of what your state’s average might be. It shouldn’t be too surprising that if you’re intending to make a living off being a fisherman, then living near the coast will play a major part in your success. If you’re located in an interior state with no major rivers or ocean access, chances are fishing will simply be a hobby you get paid a little for. Careers are found on major bodies of water – located yourself near them.

Even once you’re on the coast, the difference between state averages can be quite vast. One of the best states to start a career in is Massachusetts as they average is almost consistently the highest in the nation. Washington and New Jersey tend to round out the top three in terms of the highest paying markets. However, with high paying jobs comes a lot of competition for a position. If you’re looking to secure a steady fishing gig in one of these markets, you’ll need experience.

Regions that have access to colder waters tend to pay more for commercial fishermen as the demand for fish in these regions is so high. Most of the markets across the world want fish found in the frigid north or the temperate regions just off the coasts of the United States and Europe. Tropical fishing is done more for sport as these fish don’t have the best table fare. One of the most popular commercial fish, Pollock, is commonly found in the Baltic Sea.

The Fishing Company Makes a Difference

Who you’re fishing for is just as important as where you’re fishing. You could be just off the coast of Alaska, fishing the cold waters around you for some of the most commercially popular fish the ocean has to offer, but you’re making as much as a fisherman from Wyoming with no oceanic access. This is probably due to the company you’re working for. That’s not to say your employer is stiffing you on pay – some companies hold a greater market presence than others.

If your goal is to make fishing your sole career that will support you and your family well past retirement, then you’ll want to find a company with a large presence in the fishing industry and sign with them. It can be tempting to work for the independent fishing boat you came across when walking the docks, promising you an adventurous life where fishing is the thing. This sounds like an easy and fun life to any fishermen! However, you won’t make nearly as much as commercial companies will offer you for the same work.

Two of the highest paying fishing companies in the world are Omega Protein and West Bank. The highest paid fishermen with these companies make upwards of $100,000 a year. The reason why you’re getting so much from these companies is because of the market share they hold. They have access to some of the best fishing spots in the world and many contracts that require a certain yield every year. Working with these companies will pay you well and keep you busy.

Job Outlook for Fishermen

If you’re looking to start a career as a fisherman, now might be the best time to do it. The average change of projected hires is rather steady right now with only a difference of -700 from 2018 to 2019. This report shows a decline of 2% for fisherman jobs which isn’t too bad when compared to other industries. With a decline of 2%, there might be some job openings available in your area, but you’ll have to come prepared with experience.

As fishing is such a strenuous industry that demands a lot on its workers, the biggest reason for the decline in employment is likely due to anglers quitting and moving on. It’s a demanding environment with strenuous working conditions and no guaranteed annual pay. Many fishermen enter into the industry and quit after one season as the workload takes too much of a toll. The decline in outlook was much higher a couple of years ago.

Your best bet on finding a job as a commercial fisherman would be to join up with a larger company. These large fishing corporations tend to have larger requirements and need shoes to be filled. They have to fish more fish annually and therefore need more people to work for them. Even though the job outlook is in the decline, if you’re a quality fisherman, these companies are always looking to replace the people quitting after a season wraps up.

Experience is Key

This is a demanding industry, even for those who have been fishing their whole life. One bit of advice is not to go into this career thinking it will be the same as your fishing hobby. You have demands to meet and conditions that you have to go into. If things are looking rough while fishing in your free time, you can turn away and wait for the storms to clear. In commercial fishing, deep water storms bring some of the best results, so you’re going in head first.

Though many commercial fishing companies are looking to hire people to replace those that quit, they still require plenty of experience. If you’re going for a job in rough conditions out on the open ocean off the coast of Alaska, chances are they’ll require years of commercial experience elsewhere so look into starting small. The highest salaries tend to be reserved for veteran commercial fishermen. Fishing off the coasts might be the best place to start your career.

Commercial fishing is a difficult and unforgiving industry that doesn’t have a secure pay. The average annual salary for a commercial fisherman will vary on a seasonal basis and has many factors that impact it. If you’re looking for a steady job that will keep you comfortable, this might not be the industry for you. If you’re looking to keep your passion for fishing alive and to brave the elements while pulling in tons of fish, then a career in commercial fishing awaits you.

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