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Fishing Skipper

Kaiurungi Hao Ika

Alternative titles for this job

Fishing skippers are responsible for running a fishing boat. Responsibilities range from navigating the vessel and organising the crew to catching and processing fish.


Inshore fishing skippers usually earn

$40K-$80K per year

Deep-sea fishing skippers usually earn

$130K-$280K per year

Source: Maritime New Zealand, 2020.

Job opportunities

Chances of getting a job as a fishing skipper are average for those wanting to enter the role, but good for those with experience.


Pay for fishing skippers varies depending on the boat they operate and the fishing catch.

  • Inshore fishing skippers usually earn between $40,000 and $80,000 a year
  • Deep-sea fishing skippers can earn between $130,000 and $280,000.

Source: Maritime New Zealand, 2020.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)

What you will do

Fishing skippers may do some or all of the following:

  • hire and direct the crew
  • navigate fishing boats to and from fishing grounds
  • manage the deck and fishing duties
  • record fish catches and keep quality records
  • ensure the ship is properly equipped and maintained
  • ensure the health and safety of the crew
  • undertake maintenance and emergency repairs.

Skills and knowledge

Fishing skippers will learn or have:

  • vessel-handling skills and an understanding of their vessel's capabilities and equipment
  • good navigational skills
  • knowledge of the habits and location of the fish species they're catching
  • the ability to identify where fish are using radar and echo-sounders
  • knowledge of tides, coastlines, marine hazards and the weather
  • an understanding of health, safety and hygiene rules and regulations
  • knowledge of the Fisheries Act, Maritime New Zealand requirements, and fishing quotas.

Working conditions

Fishing skippers:

  • usually work 12-hour days, including weekends, when they are at sea
  • may work at sea for periods ranging from a day to many weeks
  • work in all types of weather, and in conditions that may be cramped and hazardous.

What's the job really like?

Chris Patrick

Deep-sea Fishing Skipper

Captain Chris Patrick talks about working as a captain on a deep-sea fishing vessel - 3:08 mins (Video courtesy of Seafood New Zealand)

My name is Chris Patrick, I am a captain for Talley’s Fisheries on the Amaltel Columbia. We work a deep-sea factory trawler predominantly around the coast of New Zealand, off the west coast of the South Island as well. The deep-sea fleet is predominantly bigger vessels and the inshore fleet being the smaller vessels.

We generally do around six weeks, 30 to 40 days is an average trip. Generally for fishing we use electronic - we've also got in conjunction with our sounders now, we've got the 3D mapping system which maps the ocean floor so basically it’s a topographical map of the ocean floor and we build those with our sounders, ourselves. So we take depths and they’re becoming detailed, the more we use them, we get a very, very good look at the ocean floor.

You can actually see where and why the fish go to certain places and it allows you to keep away from certain places too. You find after the spawn it quite often happens, you’ll have a substantial amount of fish on the coast that are there spawning, they’re grouping up and schooling up. You can’t even track them, they go from massive schools of fish and then all of a sudden they're instantly gone. Then we go back to what we call the feeding grounds which is predominantly what we spend most of the time during the year on, fishing hoki.

Careerwise it’s absolutely fantastic, it really is a good career. From the age of seven I wanted to be a fisherman so, you know, I cranked into it at 15 and really never looked back, you know, it’s been fantastic. I mean it is a challenging role, as a captain you’re not just catching fish - that’s probably 50% of your role.

They formed a company specifically for the sustainability of our main industry that we predominantly fish which is the hoki, and they do for the other species as well. We have a lot of areas that we don’t fish for small fish stocks, which is one of the reasons our stocks have increased substantially in the last five to six years. It’s in our best interest to protect all the other species, we have a lot of codes and rules we stick to with the likes of seals and seabirds and anything like that - move on rules - so we might steam on two or three miles and leave them behind just so there’s no, or very minimal risk of catching them and getting them in the nets.

Probably on average at least three to four times a week we’ll have fish somewhere in the menu, either lunchtime or dinnertime. I mean you can’t work on a fishing boat and not you know, the fish is fresh and nice and you know a good selection so it’s pretty hard to go past fresh seafood that’s for sure. Fresh hoki is absolutely beautiful and the snap frozen stuff we did is great. I'm quite fond of beer batter and plenty of lemon, a bit of lemon pepper, it’s beautiful.

Entry requirements

To become a deep-sea fishing skipper you need to have a skipper fishing vessel unlimited (SFV-U) certificate. 

To become an inshore fishing skipper you need to have a skipper restricted limit (SRL) certificate and a skipper fishing vessel limited (SFV) certificate. 

Before training as a fishing skipper you must first pass a maritime eyesight and colour vision test. 

 You must also: 

  • have experience on a fishing vessel 
  • have approved qualifications in first aid, radar, firefighting and survival
  • pass seafarer medical tests
  • be able to prove you are a 'fit and proper person'. 

Fishing skippers who run their own boat must hold a fishing permit and Annual Catch Entitlement (ACE) and/or quota shares.

Secondary education

There are no specific secondary education requirements to become a fishing skipper. However, biology, geography and maths are useful.

Personal requirements

Fishing skippers need to be:

  • responsible, practical, and able to work well under pressure
  • safety-conscious 
  • able to think on their feet and remain calm in emergencies
  • good at communicating and leading others
  • good at making decisions.

“When you take a boat to sea you’ve got to keep it running, keep everybody safe, make a dollar and come home at the end of the week.”

Photo: Jeff Morton

Jeff Morton

Fishing Skipper

Useful experience

Useful experience for fishing skippers includes:

  • work as a deckhand 
  • work as a first or second mate on a fishing boat
  • navigational work
  • other commercial fishing experience.

Physical requirements

Fishing skippers on inshore fishing boats need to be fit and healthy, as their role involves a lot of physical labour. Physical fitness is less important for deep-sea fishing skippers, as their role is usually confined to the wheelhouse.


Fishing skippers who own their own boat must register their vessel.

Find out more about training

Maritime New Zealand
0508 22 55 22 - enquiries@maritimenz.govt.nz - www.maritimenz.govt.nz
Check out related courses

What are the chances of getting a job?

Retiring fishing skippers create opportunities

Chances of getting work as a fishing skipper are good for those with experience. However, it can be difficult to enter the role. But with an ageing fishing skipper workforce, there are expected to be more opportunities as older workers retire. 

Be prepared to start as a deckhand

The best way to become a fishing skipper is to get a job as a deckhand and work your way up the ranks, gaining the necessary maritime qualifications along the way.

According to the Census, 540 fishing skippers worked in New Zealand in 2018.

Some skippers own their boats, others are employed by fishing companies

On smaller inshore fishing boats, skippers either own the boat they operate or are directly employed by the owner. On larger deep-sea fishing boats, skippers are employed by the company operating the boat.

Most fishing boats registered in New Zealand operate in inshore waters.


  • Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment, ‘Occupation Outlook, Skippers and Marine Officers’, accessed October 2020,(www.occupationoutlook.mbie.govt.nz). 
  • Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.
  • Taylor-Smith, G, senior technical advisor, Maritime New Zealand, careers.govt.nz interview, October 2020.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)

Progression and specialisations

Fishing skippers may progress to work on non-fishing vessels or move into onshore management roles, such as vessel manager, within a fishing company.

They specialise in either deep-sea or inshore fishing.

Deep-sea Fishing Skipper
Deep-sea fishing skippers may lead a large crew and play a managerial role on the fishing boat.
Inshore Fishing Skipper
Inshore fishing skippers may have just one crew member working for them. They have a more hands-on role in operating the boat and catching fish. 
A fishing vessel heads to the mooring for nightfall

Fishing skippers navigate fishing boats to and from fishing grounds

Last updated 5 November 2020