How to get a job in Canada’s Fish and Seafood Industry

WHAT CREW MEMBERS ON BOARD FISHING VESSELS IN CANADA NEED TO KNOW

 Many stories have been told about people who, with no trouble whatsoever, landed a job as a crew member in Canada’s fishing industry (Newfoundland and Labrador)  on a highliner fishing boat and made tons of money. There are published materials for sale which boast of lucrative jobs in canneries and on fishing boats. The reality is, that for every success, there are many failures. A prospective crew member’s chance for a profitable season will be enhanced by careful assessment of job openings and close attention to details regarding any job offer.

During harvest seasons, prospective crew members must walk the fishing docks to follow up each word of mouth lead to speak with the skipper personally. The travel and waiting for such an opportunity can be costly, both physically and monetarily. Crew members rarely leave good jobs, so only a small percentage of hopefuls find their berth in this manner.
 

 ADVISORY:

According to Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Fisheries Board some of the reasons crew members leave should carry a warning to job seekers to proceed with caution. Commercial fishing is rated as one of the most hazardous occupations in North America (US & Canada). Reputable boat operators rarely have serious mishaps, nor do they lose good crew members through misunderstandings. It is a good idea to find out why the departed crew member left. A vessel with numerous crew vacancies during the harvest season warrants investigation before new crew accept a job on it.

Minimum wage laws do not apply to crew member jobs in the industry. However, certain federal and provincial laws concerning hiring of persons under the age of 18 do apply.

Wages are often based on a share or percentage of harvest earnings. Newcomer deckhand earnings range from 1.5% to 10% of the adjusted gross catch, depending on location and type of fishery and the skills the worker possesses. Some vessels offer a daily rate from $50 to $100 instead of a percentage of the catch. Recent market conditions have caused some share rates to decline.

CREW COSTS
A crew member can be expected to purchase specialized apparel such as:

wet weather gear $100 per set
rubber boots $40 to $70 per pair
gloves $2 to $12 per pair
wrist covers or sleeves $5 per set
sleeping bag $70 to $200
The fishing vessel owner/operator should provide other specialized gear required by the Canadian Coast Guard, such as a survival suit. Make sure the vessel has a good safety reputation.

Crew members supply their own commercial fishing licenses. In 2000, commercial fishing license fees are $60 up for a resident and $125 for a non-resident. There is a web site offering crew license information and purchase.
Many boats charge a share of the operating expenses to crew members. These expenses may include:

food
fuel
bait
ice

PAY/SALARY: In addition to fishing, crew members are expected to perform work on their vessel and its associated gear without additional pay for these activities. The daily rate or a share or percentage of the catch is considered pay for all work performed. New crew members are advised to obtain a signed work agreement or contract that clearly explains the pay and other entitlements before going to work!

ACCOMMODATIONS: On board smaller vessels, the crew will eat, relax, and sleep with very little privacy. Toilet facilities on some vessels can be either non-existent or somewhat exposed to other crew members, while on others there is a shower and toilet for individual use. If privacy is important, a would-be crewmember should ask about these facilities.

SAFETY
Commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous occupations in Canada. The possibility of injury is ever present in every aspect of the work. The lack of medical assistance in the event of injury or illness increases the hazard. Getting to the nearest clinic or hospital is totally dependent on the weather and availability of special transportation. The wait can be hours, or even days. Before accepting an offer of work, applicants should ask about the safety equipment and procedures aboard their intended vessel. Once hired, crew members must obey all safety rules.

FISHING VESSELS

Fishing vessels range from small skiffs of 20 feet to large factory trawlers of 300 feet or longer. The vessels may fish anywhere from near shore to 200 miles at sea. The larger river systems of the province also support skiff fisheries.

NEAR-SHORE VESSELS
During the summer months, vessels that work near shore and concentrate on the herring and salmon fisheries comprise the largest portion of the fleet. The majority of these are smaller vessels such as gill-netters, purse seiners and hand and power trollers averaging in size from 20 to 60 feet. Depending on the fishery and the configuration of the vessel, the number of crew members varies from one to six.

Most of these vessels are independently owned and operated by companies. Obtaining employment on them is difficult. Replacement crew members are often family or are obtained through an industry association. Crew members are hired well before the season begins.

Floating processors, referred to as “floaters,” also operate near shore. Floaters process seafood delivered from inshore fishers and usually rely on other motor vessels to move them from one location to another. Work on floaters may be paid by the hour rather than by crew share.

OFFSHORE VESSELS
A variety of larger vessels dominate the deeper offshore reaches of the coastal waters. The area or zone where fishing takes place is commonly referred to as the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) or the Fisheries Conservation Zone (FCZ), which extends from three to 200 miles offshore. Vessel size ranges from about 50 to over 300 feet in length. Most operate year round, targeting bottom fish or whitefish (referring to the flesh color) and shellfish. The primary gear types are trawl, pot and long-line. Factory trawlers are capable of harvesting and processing simultaneously. Corporations usually own the large vessels. Most are based out of the canadian atlantic,  while a small number are based in Manitoba and Vancouver. Vessels of this type are normally fully crewed before they depart their home port for the offshore fishing grounds of Newfounland & Labrador, P.E.I as the main ones.  Many of the offshore companies have developed recruitment efforts to hire workers in Alaska too.

 JOB OPPORTUNITIES
Employers have job opportunities for crew who:

are available to work the full season or contract period
are physically able to stand and work long hours and move heavy objects
get along well with other people in remote and often wet and cold conditions
are ready for hard work, are not chronic complainers, and have a positive attitude
follow directions and abide by safety rules

Some community seafood employment specialists can be contacted in the following local Newfounland & Labrador ,P.E. I. and Manitoba Job Centres Offices can be reach through our listings at www.hinenimedia.memberlodge.org

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