A career as a fisheries officer would suit you if you enjoy working outdoors in a varied role and are good at handling information

Fisheries officers are responsible for the conservation and protection of fisheries. Working with freshwater or marine fish, they carry out surveys of aquatic life, investigate fish mortalities and study water quality.

Freshwater fisheries work involves conducting field surveys, including fish stocks, and carrying out technical project work. They also 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.

Responsibilities

As a freshwater fisheries officer, you'll need to:

  • survey fish stocks to ensure the correct type and amount of fish are in the right places
  • conduct annual surveys of rivers
  • carry out electro-fishing and netting activities
  • monitor scientific data
  • write reports
  • support recreational angling
  • contribute to habitat improvement schemes
  • communicate with and advise external bodies, e.g. angling clubs, councils and fisheries owners
  • work with planning authorities to ensure new building developments do not have an adverse impact on river fisheries
  • conduct environmental impact assessments
  • approve and issue licences for the movement of fish
  • keep up to date with legislation and relevant scientific and technical developments.

As a marine fisheries officers, you'll need to:

  • operate and maintain large, small or inflatable boats
  • patrol the coastline up to six nautical miles from the shore
  • stop and search fishing vessels in line with the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE)
  • explain European and national legislation, and local bylaws to fishing crews
  • inspect fish markets and premises in ports
  • handle fish and shellfish
  • sample biological specimens
  • analyse data and produce reports
  • manage special stock recovery measures for 'at risk' fish stocks
  • provide advice to members of the public, fishing crews and offshore fish farm managers.

Salary

  • Starting salaries range from £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.

Working hours

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 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 job involves both office-based and outdoors work, often in or around water, in all weather conditions.
  • 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.
  • Offshore marine fisheries officers may be at sea for several consecutive days, for about 30% of the time.

Qualifications

A degree is usually required for this career and would only be open to people without a degree or HND if they have significant relevant experience.

Relevant subjects include:

  • aquaculture and fisheries management/science
  • biology/biological sciences
  • environmental sciences
  • marine science/oceanography
  • land management.

A postgraduate degree is not an essential requirement but if you wish to undertake further study you could consider the following subjects:

  • aquaculture
  • fisheries science
  • marine environment/conservation.

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 need a degree to do the role.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • 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.

Work experience

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.

Employers

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.

Sea fisheries officers are employed by the committees of the Association of Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities, which helps and promotes the regional IFCAs to ensure they have a leading national role in fisheries and conservation management.

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.

In Scotland, freshwater fish are looked after by Fisheries Management Scotland, which represents Scotland's network of District Salmon Fishery Boards, the River Tweed Commission and Rivers and Fisheries Trusts.

The independent freshwater conservation charity Rivers and Fisheries Trusts of Scotland (RAFTS), works closely with Rivers Trusts, which represents the network of trusts in England and Wales.

The marine aquaculture in Scotland is managed by Marine Scotland, along with its key partners Scottish Natural Heritage and Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).

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.

Other employing organisations include:

Depending on your educational background and experience, you could progress into fisheries science with organisations such as:

Look for vacancies at:

You can find useful information about employment in industry magazines, and the Total Fishing website. Some trade and producer websites list vacancies and contacting employers speculatively can be productive.

Professional development

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. You will need to keep up to date with legislation and health and safety guidance.

Career prospects

Promotion and career development opportunities vary depending on your employer. Many sports fisheries and fish farms are small enterprises, which can limit prospects. This may mean you need to move to another company to gain supervisory or management experience.

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.

Future options could include a move into an advisory, or policy development role 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.