Fisheries officers are responsible for the conservation and protection of fisheries, whether freshwater or marine. They carry out surveys of aquatic life, investigate fish mortalities and study water quality.
Freshwater fisheries officers conduct field survey work, including surveys of fish stocks and technical project work. They advise members of the public and industry about sustainable fishing and promote angling as a recreational activity.
Marine (or sea) fisheries officers manage, regulate, develop and protect the fisheries and work to sustain the marine environment. This includes inspecting fishing vessels at sea and enforcing technical conservation measures for juvenile and spawning fish.
The tasks of a freshwater fisheries officer typically include:
- surveying fish stocks, ensuring the correct type and amount of fish are in the right places;
- conducting annual surveys of rivers;
- electro-fishing and netting;
- monitoring scientific data;
- writing reports;
- supporting recreational angling;
- contributing to habitat improvement schemes;
- communicating with and advising external bodies, e.g. angling clubs, councils and fisheries owners;
- working with planning authorities to ensure new building developments do not have an adverse impact on river fisheries;
- conducting environmental impact assessments;
- approving and issuing licences for the movement of fish;
- keeping up to date with legislation and relevant scientific/technical developments.
Marine fisheries officers are typically involved with:
- operating and maintaining large, small or inflatable boats;
- patrolling the coastline up to six nautical miles from the shore;
- stopping and searching fishing vessels in line with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE);
- explaining European and national legislation and local bylaws to fishing crews;
- inspecting fish markets and premises in ports;
- handling fish and shellfish;
- sampling biological specimens;
- analysing data and producing reports;
- managing special stock recovery measures for 'at risk' fish stocks;
- providing advice to members of the public, fishing crews and offshore fish farm managers.
- Starting salaries are typically in the range £20,000 to £25,000.
- After 10 to 15 years in the profession, you could be earning up to £35,000, with top salaries in excess of £40,000.
- Salaries tend to be higher in private consultancies, compared with public sector organisations.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
- Fisheries officers in the public sector work a 37-hour week on average, but this can include weekends and evenings.
- Hours can be flexible depending on workload.
- Working out-of-office hours may be required if there is a pollution or flooding incident affecting fish stocks.
- Part-time work is sometimes advertised and career breaks may be possible when established within the role.
What to expect
- The work is a combination of office based and outdoors, often in or around water, in all weather conditions.
- Fisheries officers are employed throughout the country, with marine fisheries officers generally based near the coast.
- Opportunities can also occur to work in other countries, e.g. seasonal fishing management in holiday resorts or work in developing countries.
- There are some opportunities for freelance and consultancy work, especially in the inland sector.
- The work can include hostile situations, especially in enforcement work, investigating or preventing illegal fishing activities.
- The work is physically demanding, wet and dirty at times, for example in river conservation, conducting surveys of fish stocks or boarding high-sided vessels.
- It is necessary to wear protective clothing and equipment when performing outdoor duties, e.g. life jackets, waders or rubber boots.
- There may be considerable travel within a working day.
- Occasional overnight travel within the UK is expected for inland fisheries officers.
- Offshore marine fisheries officers may be at sea for several consecutive days, for about 30% of the time.
A degree in the biological sciences or land-based industries is generally a requirement for this job, and subjects of particular relevance include:
- aquaculture and fisheries management/science;
- biology/biological sciences;
- environmental sciences;
- marine science/oceanography;
- land management.
Postgraduate courses are available in areas such as:
- fisheries science;
- marine environment/conservation.
These can be an asset, but are generally not an essential requirement.
The majority of entrants to this career will have a degree, and in general, it is only open to people without a degree or HND if they have significant relevant experience.
If you do not have a degree or HND, you could consider building up relevant experience by working as a water bailiff or on a fish farm. Water bailiffs maintain lakes and rivers, their stocks of fish and deal with breaches of the law, especially in Scotland. They are likened to gamekeepers but for the waters, and you don't require a degree to do the role.
You will need to show evidence of the following:
- an interest in improving the environment;
- an interest in fish and fishing;
- good people skills;
- the ability to analyse and interpret data;
- a practical disposition;
- a driving licence is useful for inland work, and boat-handling experience is helpful for marine work.
There is strong competition for jobs and so work experience is almost essential for entry to this role. Unpaid work experience opportunities are sometimes offered by organisations such as the Environment Agency (EA).
Basic practical fishery experience, through membership of an angling club or voluntary work on a small fishing boat, can also be helpful.
It may be useful to take short-term contracts initially to build up relevant skills and experience or spend time in other jobs within the environmental or fisheries sectors until the right opening occurs.
The work can be physically demanding, and some employers may require you to pass a medical examination before taking up employment.
Fisheries protection is managed by different organisations in different parts of the UK, therefore employers also vary.
In England and Wales, the majority of inland fisheries officers are employed by the Environment Agency (EA), with others in consultancies and academic research.
Marine fisheries officers are employed by the committees of the Association of Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities, which acts as a regulatory body, working in close association with the government and stakeholder groups. The association covers English inshore waters and its aim is to achieve its 'vision of healthy seas providing 'ecosystem services' for the future.'
In Northern Ireland inland fisheries are the responsibility of the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. The marine fisheries are regulated by the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development for Northern Ireland (DARDNI), through its agencies in the Fisheries Division.
Specially trained service personnel are employed by the Fishery Protection Squadron of the Royal Navy to carry out enforcement activities in English, Welsh and Northern Irish waters, to safeguard the nation's fishing stocks and protect the British fishing industry.
In Scotland, freshwater fish are looked after by 41 district boards of:
- The Association of Salmon Fishery Boards (ASFB)
- Rivers and Fisheries Trusts of Scotland (RAFTS), an independent freshwater conservation charity.
The marine aquaculture in Scotland is managed by Marine Scotland, along with its key partners:
Other employing organisations include:
- Canal & River Trust
- Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
- Scottish Canals
- private consultancies.
There may be short-term openings in developing countries where fish is an important part of the population's diet. Schemes are run by volunteer programmes such as Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO).
Look for vacancies at:
- Department of Agriculture and Rural Development for Northern Ireland (DARDNI) (Northern Ireland).
- Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) (Northern Ireland).
- Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) (England).
- Fish Farmer
- Fish Update
- Fishing News
- Institute of Fisheries Management
- Nature Jobs
- New Scientist Jobs
- National, local and regional press.
Useful employment information can be found in industry magazines, details of which can be found at Total Fishing. Some trade and producer websites list vacancies and contacting employers speculatively can be productive.
Recruitment agencies and jobcentres sometimes handle vacancies in relevant areas. A searchable database of recruitment agencies can be found at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC).
Training is usually on the job and you are likely to receive an induction into the role and organisation.
You will initially shadow an experienced fisheries officer. Gradually, you will start to take on your own tasks and workload until you become responsible for your own area.
In larger organisations, the responsibility for an area is spread across a team.
A one-year certificate course and a more advanced two-year diploma course, in Fisheries Management is run by the Institute of Fisheries Management. They also deliver a range of specialist one and two day courses in various subjects.
Marine fisheries officers (both offshore and land based) may receive training in boat handling and navigation, if they do not already possess these skills.
Ongoing training can be run internally or externally and will include areas such as developments in the relevant UK and EU legislation and health and safety.
Promotion and career development opportunities vary depending on your employer. Many sports fisheries and fish farms are small enterprises, which can limit prospects.
To gain supervisory or management experience it may be necessary to move to a different company.
Progression and career structures are fairly well defined within the public sector, but promotion can depend upon meeting performance targets. There is some room to progress into a more specialised technical role, or into team leader and management roles, which may involve taking a more strategic view of fisheries issues, resources planning and people management.
It can be very helpful to be flexible in your career. Various options open up with experience. Some fisheries officers move into advisory roles or policy development within government, or into private consultancy, with for example, commercial fish retailers working on sustainability issues.
Another route is into further or higher education lecturing and research in colleges or universities that offer relevant courses, although these options may require relocation.
Depending on your educational background and experience, you could progress into fisheries science with organisations such as:
- The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS)
- Marine Scotland - undertakes research and monitoring to provide scientific and technical advice on marine and freshwater issues.