From education to employment

Career Catch: Attracting A New Generation Of Workers To The Fishing Industry

Phil Haslam, Excluisve fisherman

The UK fishing industry is currently struggling to attract new workers, but a combination of education and training can help persuade young people of the value of a career within the sector.

The UK fishing industry is facing a challenge. Young people, particularly from coastal towns, appear to be increasingly abandoning the idea of a career in fishing, with 61% stating they would not even consider a career in the industry. As well as this, in the last decade, the number of workers in the sector has fallen by 1,700 and the number of fishers in the UK has steadily declined by 48% since 1995.

Yet, the fishing industry continues to offer plenty of opportunities for career-starters. More education around these opportunities, and a promotion of awareness and skills development, could tempt people back to an industry that contributes over £1bn to the national economy and contributes to our national food security.  We are a maritime nation and are blessed with particularly fertile fishing grounds in our seas. The fishing industry is part of our tradition and tapestry and will play an increasingly influential role in assuring that food is delivered to a growing global population.

The potential for rewarding careers at sea is huge – but it’s seldom highlighted within traditional education.

A decline in interest and the importance of the sector

There is a condition dubbed “Sea Blindness” that suggests that as land dwellers, we have lost our innate connection to the sea and the vital role it plays in all our day-to-day lives. From merchant traffic carrying the everyday goods we rely upon, offshore energy development to light our homes, subsea cables to enable global connectivity, marine mineral extraction to provide building material, and fishing to deliver food, a lot is going on.  A career at sea is distinct and brings some challenges but many rewards.

Fishing is one of the oldest professions, but it has not stood still. Fishing businesses are constantly adapting, innovating, and investing to make sure that it is possible to responsibly gather the harvest that nature provides whilst assuring the future sustainability of fish stocks. The UK fishing industry is highly regulated and increasingly technologically advanced, but it still needs people to crew vessels and deliver the catch.

And it needs to be with the world’s population projected to grow to around 8.5 billion by 2030 and 11 billion by 2100. Delivering food from the marine environment, through catching wild fish or producing seafood through aquaculture, is crucial for bolstering food security in this country and around the world. In basic terms, there is a growing need to supply protein-rich food sources to people globally, and the fishing industry is essential for meeting the burgeoning demand for sustainable and affordable sources.

Engaging young people is an important way to guarantee a resilient and eco-friendly industry, with new generations able to offer new perspectives and drive innovation. The European Commission’s “Fishers of the Future” project underscores this, aiming to explore the changing role of fishers up to 2050, seeking insights from those within the profession and preparing the industry for a dynamic future.

Misconceptions about the skills required for the fishing industry

The fishing industry is often subject to inaccurate perspectives, being branded as unsafe, poorly paid, and criticised by some environmentalists for harming the marine ecosystem. These kinds of myths and misconceptions can make it harder to attract people to key vacancies, particularly young workers who seek well-paid, stable jobs.

The industry follows a high standard of welfare and safety protocols that align with the International Labour Organisation’s ILO C188 convention. Technological advancements and new legal frameworks have helped vastly improve safety measures in recent years.

The sector also offers extensive training and development opportunities – including in STEM skills – with a growing focus on specialists in marine engineering, naval architecture, AI and robotics. These advancements in technology will mean the fishing industry will increasingly depend on new seafarers who possess the necessary skills to effectively utilise it.

At present, there is a considerable need for Engineering Officers on larger modern vessels. These ships have adopted digital solutions and automation, and need individuals who are both tech-savvy and possess conventional expertise.

Opportunities and roles

Given this increasing emphasis on specialists, it makes sense that the industry offers a diversity of jobs, from deck roles to scientific and management positions. Here are three key ones you might consider:

  • Skipper
    A role that includes everything from vessel safety and navigation to managing fishing operations and the crew. A valid certificate of competency and strong experience in fishing are fundamental.
  • Engineer
    A vital position for ensuring the maintenance and delivery of the vessel systems to support operations including main and auxiliary engines, steering gear, hull integrity, electrical systems, refrigeration and keeping the galley (kitchen) going. You’ll need a valid marine engineering certificate and a willingness to solve a range of problems.
  • Factory Manager
    A management role that oversees the grading, processing, freezing, and packaging of fish on board a vessel, monitoring quality standards, and hygiene regulations, and ensuring production targets are met. You’ll need to have a valid certificate of competency and experience in fish processing and management.

These are just a few examples of the diverse range of jobs available on a commercial fishing vessel. There are further land-based and scientific roles as well – and as fishing practices and technology continue to evolve, new job opportunities will also emerge.

How to support the sector

Partnerships with educational institutions are an excellent way we can all encourage more young people to enter into careers in the fishing industry. This might mean teaching younger generations about fish stock replenishment in biology or the economic impact of fishing in coastal areas in geography – anything that makes students aware of what the sector does and how it works. You can also do this by including industry experts in career events to provide firsthand fishing insights.

And training is also important. The government’s seafood fund is designed to boost skill development and career progression, equipping young people with the expertise to thrive in the industry.       

Why should young people embark on a career in fishing?

Promoting careers in fishing isn’t just about maintaining a workforce – it’s about securing a sustainable future for the entire sector. Plus, the industry holds unique draws, like working in the open sea, embracing marine life, and enjoying a sense of autonomy. And many roles allow workers to acquire diverse, marketable and transferable skills.

Highlighting the advancements in the field is vital. With the latest in maritime technology available, a career at sea is now safer and more rewarding than ever, offering a fulfilling path for young people.

The future of the industry

To sustain its productivity, the fishing sector needs to highlight the benefits of maritime careers and trumpet its technological progress and improved safety measures. It’s time for fishing businesses to join forces with educational bodies, advocating for the profession and simplifying entry into the field. That way, more young people will see the value – and the diversity – of a career in fishing.

By Phil Haslam, Managing Director, North Atlantic Fishing Company

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