Fishing Vessel Masters and Skippers and Fishermen/women - What They Do

Fishermen/women operate fishing vessels less than 100 gross tonnes to pursue and land fish and other marine life. They are usually self-employed owner-operators of fishing vessels.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

  • Operate fishing vessel to pursue and catch fish and other marine life
  • Select area for fishing, plot courses and compute navigational positions using compasses and charts or electronic fishing aids
  • Steer vessel and operate navigational instruments
  • Operate fishing gear, direct fishing operation and supervise fishing crew members
  • Maintain engine, fishing gear and other on-board equipment
  • Record fishing activities, weather and sea conditions
  • Estimate costs of operations and plan budget for each fishing season
  • Establish fish marketing plan and keep records of all financial transactions
  • May transport fish to processing plants or fish buyers.

Job titles

  • fisherman/woman
  • fishing vessel skipper
  • inshore fisherman/woman
  • lobster fisherman/woman
  • longliner fisherman/woman
  • seiner fisherman/woman
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • Several years of experience as fishing vessel crew member or helper are usually required.
  • A commercial fishing licence is required.
  • Licences are required for each species of fish pursued.
  • Trade certification for fish harvesters is available, but voluntary, in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Essential Skills


  • Skim operating instructions on fishing gear and safety equipment labels. They read instructions and precautions on cleaners, solvents and other maintenance supplies. (1)
  • Scan fishing logs that detail weather and fishing information from past fishing seasons. (1)
  • Read bulletins from government agencies that provide information on weather conditions and changes in navigation and fishing operations. They may read on-screen versions of these bulletins at web sites or through e-mail. (2)
  • Read fishing licence application forms and catch quota forms to ensure compliance to rules and regulations described on the forms. (2)
  • Read fishing industry magazines and newspapers for local and national news, product reviews and editorials. (2)
  • Read municipal, provincial and federal fishing regulations to ensure their practices are compliant. They review fishing license conditions and read navigation, public docking and mooring regulations. (2)
  • Read operating and user manuals for navigational equipment such as plotters, global positioning systems, depth sounders and radar systems. (3)
  • May read studies, policies and proposed legislation that are developed to regulate and manage the fishing industry. (3)

Document use

  • Read labels on safety equipment such as lifejackets and flares to ensure they are approved for use and verify equipment expiration dates. (1)
  • Read lists of meeting dates, season openings and closures, and dates for licence renewals posted by government agencies and fishing associations. (1)
  • Complete licence applications and catch quota forms by checking boxes and entering brief notes. (1)
  • Plot courses and locations of fishing gear on a plotter using electrically drawn lines and icons. They use the plots to locate traps and nets when they return to fishing grounds. (2)
  • Enter data such as location coordinates, weather conditions, water and air temperatures, catch quantities and amounts paid for catches in log books. (2)
  • Take data from tide tables and fish price per kilogram listings. (2)
  • Read navigation charts. They interpret icons, symbols and abbreviations on the charts to plot courses to and from ports and fishing grounds, and to avoid dangerous areas. (3)
  • Read assembly drawings when trying to install or repair equipment. For example, they may consult assembly drawings when installing new navigational plotters. (3)
  • May read schematics when installing or repairing equipment. For example, they may follow wiring schematics when installing new auto pilots on their boats. (3)


  • Write brief reminders of what was said at meetings or what they found on web sites. For example, they may write reminders about quotas and season openings while visiting the Department of Fisheries and Ocean's website. (1)
  • Write notes in log books to keep a record of weather, sea conditions, navigational readings, catches and unusual sightings while on the water. For example, they might note fish and bird species that are not normally found in their areas or vessels whose appearance or behaviour is suspicious. (1)
  • Write short e-mail to suppliers to inquire about the availability and prices of equipment. (2)
  • May write short letters and notes to government agencies and the media to express concerns, voice opinions, defend positions and request licenses and authorization. For example, they may write letters to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans protesting quota cuts and pointing out the abundance of particular species in their areas. (3)


Money Math

  • Purchase gear, bait, fuel and equipment required for daily fishing operations with cash or credit cards and retain receipts for bookkeeping purposes. (1)
  • Sell fish by the pound or kilogram. They weigh the fish, calculate purchase amount, apply taxes and make change for consumers. (2)
  • Sell fish to wholesale fish buyers. They negotiate prices, rebates and discounts, often prior to season openings and at dockside. (3)

Scheduling, Budgeting and Accounting Math

  • May record expenses and revenues for accounting purposes and to determine the profitability of fishing trips. (1)
  • Record work schedules for crew and maintenance schedules for equipment. (1)

Measurement and Calculation Math

  • Measure traps, fishing net mesh and fish. (1)
  • Calculate position such as fishing grounds using navigational instruments to determine locations. (2)

Data Analysis Math

  • Keep an inventory of catches landed on a per-trip and cumulative basis so that quotas are not exceeded. They inspect catches to determine that there are no undersized fish or ineligible species which should be returned to the water. (2)
  • Analyze catches and weather data recorded in logs from past trips to determine the most productive fishing times and locations. (2)

Numerical Estimation

  • Estimate sizes and values of catches, total steaming times and times of arrival in ports. (1)
  • Estimate quantities of supplies, bait, fuel and food needed for the number of days they expect to be at sea. They must also factor crew requirements into the estimate. (2)

Oral communication

  • Listen to radio broadcasts for weather reports, calls from other vessels or emergency calls. (1)
  • Speak with customers and potential buyers. They explain how to prepare fish and answer general interest questions such as where and how different species are caught. (1)
  • May assign tasks and give verbal instructions to crew members during fishing trips. (2)
  • Speak with officials such as port administrators who manage facilities and with coast guard and fisheries inspectors who enforce regulations in the fishing industry. For example, they question DFO officials about possible lengthening or closing of seasons, speak with harbourmasters about dock assignments and request annual safety inspections by Coast Guard representatives. (2)
  • Order fishing gear and boat parts, and confirm delivery times with suppliers. Late or incomplete supply orders or backordered parts are especially critical during fishing season. (2)
  • Discuss the availability and quality of fish and negotiate the price of fish with plant owners and fish buyers. (2)
  • Speak at union and fishing association meetings, public hearings and discussion groups. They may present information or communicate concerns about resource management. (2)
  • Speak with other fish harvesters to discuss subjects such as fishing and weather conditions, new regulations, sources of equipment and supplies and fishing methods. They use nautical terms not regularly understood by the general public such as bow, stern, windward and leeward. (3)


Problem Solving

  • Lose or break fishing gear due to inclement weather, usage or interference by other vessels. They repair or replace the gear in a timely manner. (1)
  • May not catch enough fish early in the season to use as bait. They are forced to buy it from local suppliers. (1)
  • Experience equipment malfunctions or breakdowns at sea. They attempt to make running repairs. If they are unable to get equipment working properly, they return to port where more resources are available. If their boats are disabled, they call for emergency assistance. (2)
  • May lose electronic navigation capability in their boats. They revert to traditional navigation methods using compasses and charts until the equipment is repaired. (2)
  • May encounter too many other fish harvesters fishing in too small an area to be safe and productive. They communicate with each other and authorities to organize fair fishing and safe navigation to prevent tangled gear and broken equipment. (2)
  • May have trouble getting acceptable or good prices for catches. Low prices may be caused by saturated markets, disputes over product quality or lack of transportation to the markets. They find other buyers, hold products until a better price is found or suspend fishing of that species until the price for the catch yields a reasonable return. (3)

Decision Making

  • Decide to send equipment out to qualified service persons for repairs. They consider the amount of time they have available for repairs, their ability to do the work competently and the cost if equipment is sent to a service and repair shop. (1)
  • May decide how many crew members are needed for each fishing season. (2)
  • Decide what gear must be purchased for each fishing season based on the species they fish. (2)
  • Decide to sell to a variety of buyers to maintain competition for their catch and to diversify their market bases. (2)
  • Decide to support proposals and regulations put forward by government, fishing associations, scientists and businesses. For example, they may support conservation measures that propose limiting present catches in favour of larger quotas in subsequent years. (3)
  • Decide when and where to fish based on past experience, legislated restrictions and available markets. They fish in the best areas available given government restrictions and traditional rights on the fishing grounds. Choosing the right locations is critical to fishing success and profitability. (4)

Critical Thinking

  • Evaluate the quality of gear and equipment. (1)
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of processing and fish storage methods used by crew to ensure quality. (2)
  • Evaluate the reliability and validity of weather and ice condition information provided by different sources. (3)

Job Task Planning and Organizing

Own Job Planning and Organizing

Fishing Vessel Skippers and fishermen/women plan each day in advance, preparing all that they need well ahead of time. Insufficient planning can result in lost fishing time and, in some cases, put lives in danger. They must be disciplined and maintain tight work schedules. Daily planning follows a routine which is broken only by interruptions such as bad weather and mechanical breakdowns. Some disruptions may require significant reorganization to make up for lost time and to get work completed.

Planning and Organizing for Others

Fishing Vessel Skippers and Fishermen/women may schedule and plan work for their partners, helpers and crew. They assign positions and direct activities of crew members while working and ensure that they are working in a safe and efficient manner.

Significant Use of Memory

  • Remember Fisheries and Oceans Canada's notices to mariners advising of changes to regulations and hazards to navigation.
  • Remember fishing regulations, quotas and restrictions which change from year to year.
  • Remember fishing grounds which produce the best catches during specific times or seasons. For example, they may remember catching herring over reefs or breeding areas.
  • Remember basic maintenance procedures for engines and winches.

Finding Information

  • Find weather and ice conditions information on television, radio, recorded telephone messages and at the Environment Canada web site. (1)
  • Find information on legislation, regulations, season openings and closures and restrictions by reading bulletins, visiting web sites, calling Department of Fisheries and Oceans officials and talking to union and association representatives. (2)
  • Monitor fish prices, dates for seasonal openings and closings, availability of equipment by reading newspapers, magazines, reports, attending meetings and talking to other fish harvesters in their areas or from other locations. (3)

Digital technology

  • May use word processing. For example, they may write short notes or letters. (2)
  • Use communication software. For example, they e-mail suppliers for equipment prices. (2)
  • Use the Internet. For example, they use an Internet browser to access weather and ice reports, learn about new fishing gear and read information posted by agencies which regulate the fishing industry. (2)
  • Use other computer and software applications. For example, they may use navigation software to mark their traps and nets on electronic charts. They may use global positioning systems, sonar and radar to navigate their boats and find fish. (2)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Most fishing vessel skippers and fishermen/women work with partners or helpers to catch and haul fish, plan fishing routes and sell their catch. They need to coordinate their own activities with their crew to maximize the profitability of each fishing trip, and to ensure personal safety and the safety of the crew. They may work independently to complete accounting functions or as part of a team to maintain their boats and fishing gear. (2)

Continuous Learning

Fishing vessel skippers and fishermen/women gain practical knowledge about fishing on the job and by talking to other fish harvesters. They learn how to use technologies such as global positioning systems and fish finders by studying manuals independently and by reading operating guidelines and procedures for these technologies on manufacturer's Internet sites. They review fishing magazines and newsletters from fishing organizations They take courses offered by DFO and fishing associations to upgrade navigation and safety certification. New regulations issued by DFO are reviewed to incorporate changes in their fishing practice. (2)