Fishing is a way of life, following the rhythm of the sea and imbued with nautical and maritime lore, but mostly lots of hard work and long hours. The coastal communities along the eastern shore, the Gulf, and in Pacific harbor towns were born and nourished by the sea. But as the fisheries declined from overfishing and climate change, coastal communities found it harder to generate economic activity as they did in the past.
But the use of the seas doesn’t have to be industrially extractive. Thoughtful people are coming together to develop more sustainable systems to use ocean and water resources for seafood production, including wild harvest. This section provides resources for entrepreneurs interested in helping build place-based, resilient, and ecologically appropriate commercial fishing industries.
Community Supported Fisheries and Businesses
The Business and Practice of Small-scale Commercial Fishing
Permits, Licenses, and Regulations
Gear and Fisheries Technology
Regional Magazines for the Fishing Industry
Local Catch assists community-based fishermen by providing assistance to individuals and support in designing and implementing locally-relevant businesses. Their website includes a directory of community supported fisheries around the country.
Community supported fisheries links fishermen to local markets, where customers pre-pay for a season of fresh, local, sustainable-caught seafood, and in turn receive a weekly or bi-weekly share of fish or shellfish. Three CSFs to check out include New Hampshire Community Seafood, Port Clyde Fresh Catch CSF, and Walking Fish. Check out other CSFs at Local Catch.
The publication Starting and Maintaining Community Supported Fishery (CSF) Programs, by NOAA, SeaGrant, and Maine’s Island Institute, is a resource guide for fishermen and fishing communities. It provides an introduction to the CSF concept, identifies common business, management, and legal issues, and directs fishermen and fishing communities to additional resources that can help them develop their businesses. Those considering entering into direct marketing should get in touch with fishermen and organizations with experience in developing or running CSFs, such as the National CSF Summit and Local Catch, to learn more about this business model, what it takes to get a CSF off the ground and keep it running, and how to gain access to specialized expertise.
A good small business model for sustainable commercial fishing is Wild for Salmon, a Pennsylvania-based, family owned company that fishes Bristol Bay, Alaska, and markets sustainable caught salmon and other seafood products through farmers markets, CSA’s, buying clubs, and online. Steve and Jenn Kurian, the owners, market four species of salmon, halibut, scallops, crab, and black cod from the Pacific, shrimp from Louisiana, and lobster from Maine. The salmon is caught from their own boat and other local fishermen in Alaska, and other seafood products are sourced from sustainable fisheries in Alaska, Maine, and Louisiana.
Eating with the Ecosystem is a non-profit organization working to connect fishermen, chefs, and markets to build healthy, place-based communities with robust, short market chain seafood. Much like the concepts of eating local and seasonal, their approach is to encourage a practice of eating local, sustainably caught seafood to energize coastal communities and foster ecological resilience of the ocean. The brainchild of Sarah Schumann, a Rhode Island fisherman and writer, Eating with the Ecosystem works with fishermen, scientists, chefs, and community members to address issues such as ocean habitat, climate change and resilience, food access, and local seafood systems. Resilient Fisheries RI, also spearheaded by Schumann, is a group of fishermen engaged in collaborative learning. As their website states, they bring together “captains, crew, seafood dealers, gear makers, bait stringers, fuel suppliers, ice makers, etc.” in a network of stakeholders to discuss environmental issues and develop plans and policies that affect RI commercial fishing.
The following resources have been collected to assist those who are interested in entering into a commercial fishing business. Included are manuals, publications, and website to help new fishermen understand equipment, gear, marketing, regulations, permits, education sources, and finding your first fishing job.
Getting a job on a fishing vessel is one of the most common ways of entering into the business of commercial fishing. Many successful boat skippers got their start as a deckhand or have fishing in their family. It’s not easy, and it takes a lot of effort, trial and error, and luck… as well as what Steve Kurian, a Bristol Bay fisherman and owner of Wild for Salmon, called a “fire in your belly,” coupled with a diligent entrepreneurial personality. Some resources to get started in finding a deckhand job include online job boards such as Alaska Fishing Jobs Network, the Alaska Fishing Jobs Center, and many others. See also the help wanted sections of fishing industry magazines like National Fisherman. See below for more magazines dedicated to the commercial fishing industry.
Financial and business tools for commercial seafood harvesters are available from the Sea Grant FishBiz Project website. Included are resources for business startup, planning, financing, and more. Users can develop their own business plan by using the FishBizPlan tool. The section on direct marketing has publications and guides on calculating profitability, onboard inspections, working with a broker, labeling requirements, and catcher/seller permits.
The Fishermen’s Direct Marketing Manual was written by the Alaska, Washington, and Oregon SeaGrant to help fishermen think through the issues involved in selling their seafood products further up the distribution system. In addition to chapters on marketing, finding customers, and business planning, you’ll find sections on accounting, e-commerce, working with custom processors, direct marketing shrimp, setting up a boat for direct marketing, and avoiding HACCP problems. Direct marketers are developing new knowledge and skills and are sharing what they know in this updated manual.
Marketing Your Catch, developed by UC Santa Barbara and SeaGrant, is a website that provides information and resources about direct marketing for seafood. It includes information from diverse, readily available sources and from interviews we conducted with commercial fishermen, buyers, and others in fishing communities on both the east and west coasts. The website provides documents, website links, and contact information for various agencies relevant to seafood marketing. While this website is geared primarily toward US West Coast fishermen and communities, much of it is applicable to those in other regions who are interested in establishing or expanding direct markets for seafood.
The LocalCatch website states that they are a community-of-practice that is made up of fisherman, organizers, researchers, and consumers from across North America that are committed to providing local, healthful, low-impact, and economy sustainable seafood via community supported fisheries (CSFs) and other direct marketing arrangements. They believe this work is critical for supporting healthy fisheries and the communities that depend on them, and seek to increase the visibility and viability of community-based fishermen and aim to provide assistance to individuals and organizations that need support envisioning, designing, and implementing locally-relevant businesses that work towards a triple bottom line. LocalCatch is maintained by a voluntary steering committee that is responsible for supporting the growth and development of the network.
Because of overfishing and ecological degradation of the oceans and fisheries, eight US Regional Fishery Management Councils were created in 1976 by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The law seeks to prevent overfishing, rebuild overfished stocks, increase the long-term economic and social benefits of the fishery, and ensure a safe and sustainable supply of seafood. The regional councils developed by the law oversee the fisheries in their region that need conservation and management to sustain their fishery. The councils’ jobs are to develop fishery management plans, identify research priorities, set annual catch limits, and develop and implement stock rebuilding plans.
Permits, quotas, and licenses for commercial fishermen are issued by region. Permits exist for regulating a fishery to ensure sustainable harvests, and are issued by federal agencies under the jurisdiction of the National Marine Fisheries Service. Vessels that fish from regulated, federal waters must have a fishing vessel permit from the appropriate NOAA Fisheries regional office. Catch shares, including individual fishing quotas, authorize a person a share of the catch of a certain species based on the total allowable catch for a season. States also regulate commercial fishing by issuing licenses. Take a look at the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and the State of Maine Department of Marine Resources for information on fees and requirements. For a look at how one state regulates entrance into the fishery, see the Alaska Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, which controls the entry into Alaska’s commercial fisheries. Their job is to promote conservation of Alaska’s fishery resources and economic health of commercial fishing by issuing and facilitating transfer of annual commercial fishing permits and vessel licenses. Each state has regulations for entry into commercial fishing in their waters.
Sea Grant offers a range of classes designed to help fishermen improve their skills. For example, Washington SeaGrant offers workshops in such topics as corrosion control, diesel engine troubleshooting, first aid at sea, direct marketing, rules of the road and practical navigation, oil spill prevention, and marine refrigeration. Also, Maine Sea Grant has extensive publications and resources that covers many aspects of the marine trades. SeaGrant programs and educational resources in other states can be found at the National SeaGrant website.
The National Sea Grant Library is the official archive for NOAA Sea Grant documents. This collection includes a wide variety of subjects, including oceanography, marine education, aquaculture, fisheries, aquatic nuisance species, coastal hazards, seafood safety, limnology, coastal zone management, marine recreation, and law.
Paul Greenberg is an author, having published in National Geographic Magazine, GQ, The Times of London, and Vogue, and is a fellow with The Safina Center and a Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation. He has written books on sustainable fisheries and local seafood, including American Catch: The Fight for Our Local Seafood and Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food. These books provide valuable insight into the history of local fisheries and the problems associated with global seafood demand and its impact on American fisheries and communities. Greenberg tells the story of fishermen and communities in the face of environmental disturbance and global demand, and offers insight into the way forward to developing community-based and sustainable fisheries.
The best way to learn about fishing technology is to get out on a boat and fish. Besides that, there are some online resources that help to introduce the various concepts that are involved with the gear and equipment fishermen use. The Fisheries and Aquaculture Department of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations website has links to fact sheets on fishing gear, vessels, and techniques. Also, NOAA’s Fixed Gear Guide discusses traps, pots, gillnets, and longline/set line with charts, pictures, and descriptions, as well as buoy markings and fishing season overviews in the Pacific.
A good resource to learn about longline fishing is Horizontal Longline Fishing Methods and Techniques, by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, New Caledonia. In it you’ll find information on fishing methods, safety, gear, planning the fishing trip, setting and hauling gear, fish handling, marketing, and responsible fishing. Although developed for Australia and New Zealand, it has good info that is applicable to other regions as well.
The Basic Purse Seine Crew Course Learners Guide is a course developed by NZ Aid to assist fishing crews in understanding the craft of purse seine fishing, including chapters in deck seamanship, navigational watch standing, marlinspike seamanship and rope work, and net work. The PowerPoint Purse Seine Fishing Procedures and Gear describes how purse seine gear works, how it’s deployed, and how marine mammals can be released safely if caught.
For a practical instructional guide to net mending, a skill any fisherman should have, consult the NOAA/SeaGrant publication Introduction to Net Mending. Marlinespike seamanship is an art of tying knots and splicing line or cable for various uses on a vessel. See Chapter 3 of the US Navy’s Seaman Manual, which describes the trade of marlinespike seamanship, including useful knots and deck skills important for fishermen.
These publications offer a wealth of information including news, classifieds, jobs and opportunities, gear and equipment, and more.
This page was last updated on: September 14, 2017