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We get many email enquiries and Facebook comments regarding the prospects of a career in fisheries. While by no means as rare as the British burbot, jobs in fisheries are thin on the ground. So, your chances of a dream career aren’t that high, but that’s equally true of many other professions.
Here’s some advice and real-life examples of how two well-respected fisheries folk first got started in the field.
All things being equal, all organisations employing fisheries managers will be looking at the quality of candidate’s academic qualifications. A prospective fisheries manager would find an A level in chemistry a ‘must have’. Fisheries management by necessity covers water quality issues and other areas where chemistry comes in handy. The fisheries management profession covers a huge swathe of disciplines from algology through to zoology. A degree in a biological or environmental science is a huge advantage when searching out job opportunities.
If you are no longer a youngster, or maybe obtained exam results that didn’t reflect your true potential, the Institute of Fisheries Management offer two distance learning courses. The certificate course is a one-year course that is open to anyone with an interest in fisheries; for those who want to take their learning further they also offer a two-year diploma course. If you're looking to gain specific skills, they deliver a number of short courses ranging from fish ID to electric fishing.
The two biggest employers of fisheries people are the Environment Agency and Rivers Trusts. We understand the number of EA fisheries enforcement staff is currently around 67 full time employees. In addition to this, the EA employ fisheries scientists and technical specialists as well as other fisheries staff in monitoring teams, so we have provided our best estimate of the number of EA staff undertaking fisheries work.
From the age of 14, when I read a job advert for a water guardian at the newly formed EA, I just knew in my heart that I wanted to work in fisheries. I loved fishing and the outdoors, but didn't have a clue about a future career. I arranged a meeting with my local EA fisheries team leader. He told me about all the great work the Agency did, and that while the jobs tended to be 'dead man's shoes’, if I liked fish, there would be nothing better. I was told to aim for a degree if I was hoping to progress. Truthfully, I wanted to leave school with only A-levels, and was more interested in just getting a job, but over the next eight years I did my GCSEs, three A levels and then completed an Environmental Biology degree. I also arranged some work experience with the local fisheries team and made sure they knew who I was, that I was keen, and genuinely wanted a job with them.
Cue 2003 and I applied for a three-month contract as a biologist at Brampton. I convinced the interviewers that I was a biologist and it all started. One of the stalwart fisheries officers planned to move to another team, and I was told his job would be available shortly. It was a great opportunity so I worked hard and delivered good work. I got that job and spent three of the best years of my life monitoring fish stocks throughout the Great Ouse catchment. Ten years ago, I moved to the technical fisheries team and have been involved in every aspect of the myriad of fisheries services we offer. I think it’s important that myself and colleagues are active anglers. We care both about fish and fishing, so we invest our passion and hunger for the sport to drive a great service and improve the fisheries upon which the sport ultimately depends.
Keep your options open - fisheries jobs are few and far between. Think carefully about your education options and consider what will make you attractive to all employers not just those with a fisheries interest. Get some work experience - make yourself known to your local fisheries team, go out with them and try to get an active voluntary role in an organisation like the Canal & River Trust, Rivers Trust, Angling Trust or your local rivers "friends of" group. It's a competitive world out there and you need to stand out from the crowd.
Know what you want - there are various roles within the fisheries industry; from running a fishery, to selling fishing tackle or restoring and protecting rivers. Make the effort to investigate all the different elements.
I always wanted to be a marine biologist and my long-suffering dad would take me to the sea side in deepest winter so I could check out the low tides and find good shells! Roll on a few years and I got my first degree at Portsmouth in biology and marine biology. My aim was Antarctic survey but this ended up a blank because it was a no-women rule back then. I took the MSc at Kings College in Aquatic Resource Management which landed me a placement with the NRA. No permanent jobs though so I spent some time on the Scottish salmon rivers in consultancy and was hired to be part of a team contracted to deliver an Environmental Impact Assessment for British Nuclear Power. Eventually a grade 2 fisheries assistant role came up in Thames SE so I headed back south to a portacabin where there were more dogs in the office than fisheries staff!
I went onto be a fisheries officer in West Thames and then fisheries manager in the regional office. At this point, I handled more paperwork than fish, which improves the salary but you do end up hanging up your dry suit. After a big restructure, I moved to head office and became a senior technical advisor. This has been a great job and I have worked on loads of different things from rod licences, enforcement officer’s obligations / training as a warranted office, to coarse fish monitoring and on to the 2009 Eel Regulations and all the subsequent work to improve screening on intakes for eels and all other species of fish.
I have spent time outside of fisheries working in other parts of the Agency. This has really helped me understand how unique fisheries is, but how we need to broaden our horizons to get the best possible environmental benefit for fisheries and the wider world. I am currently assigned as the Salmon Manager, leading an ambitious work programme that seeks to protect this iconic fish from the pressures it faces from exploitation, lack of flow, water quality and to understand the marine phase of its life a bit better. This means working across the EA and other organisations such as Defra, Angling Trust, River Trusts and the Atlantic Salmon Trust.
Qualifications are not enough, you need experience to stand out in an interview. This is usually unpaid, but worth the effort.
Qualifications do however help! I would always strive to get the best you can – knowing what I wanted to do helped me enormously as I had something to aim for amongst endless classes and revision timetables.
Once you are there, keep yourself up to date. You always need to be learning. In my case this is now getting out and seeing what policies and processes mean to the teams doing the work. Things move on and I cannot depend on how I did stuff. You’ll learn more in a day visiting field teams than you will ever do in a series of meetings trying to decide what is best for a process you have not seen. Also, I get to dust off those wellies!
If you want to end up with a small fortune from running a commercial, it helps to begin with quite a large fortune. Firstly, you have to overcome nature’s challenge of cormorants, otters, fish disease, algal blooms and the like. You are buying a 24/7 job just like a farm, although there is no government compensation for fishery owners if their stock suddenly succumbs to some disease. Additionally, the customer base is increasingly heading towards it’s more mature years. There’s no certainty the new generation we want to see coming into angling will materialise. If you’re really determined to purchase a commercial fishery, you’ll need to save up an awful lot of money. Winston Churchill offered some sound advice about this. Saving money, the great war leader said, was ‘a particularly good thing, especially when someone else does it for you’.
The team undertake a diverse range of work including looking after the Trust's £40 million worth of fish stocks, managing agreements with over 250 different angling clubs and helping more people, especially youngsters, take up angling on the canal. Follow this blog to keep updated with the thoughts and work of the team.