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Seasonal Fishing Jobs in Australia

Big Dollars and Big Adventures Down Under

Prawn trawlers in Australia often have fishing jobs.
Prawn trawler in Australia.

Ask any backpacker in Australia what they plan to do for work over the next 12 months and you’ll get the same answer: farm work. What’s this mysterious attraction? Why are backpackers clamoring to break their backs picking fruit when they could be kite-surfing at Bondi Beach?

Three words: Second year visa. An Australian working holiday visa is incredibly easy to obtain. You can apply online for a visa and be approved.

* Note that your visa doesn’t actually start until you enter the country so don’t put it off until the last minute! A second year visa, on the other hand, is another matter altogether.**

In order to be considered eligible, working holiday-makers in Australia need to complete three months of farm work. Most backpackers go straight to the farms since there’s plenty of fruit picking to be done in every corner of the country. A little-known fact is that another industry exists for the adventurous traveler that is not only far more lucrative but also satisfies the requirements for a second year visa: Fishing.

Fishing is not for the faint of heart. The hours are brutally long and the work is physically demanding. Rest assured the rewards far outweigh the challenges. For the adventurous traveler, trawling for prawns is an excellent way to experience Australia while saving some cash for further world travel.

A fine fishing catch.
A fine catch of fish.

How much money can I make? A lot. But there is always a risk. As a cook or crew member you make a percentage of the catch, usually around 10%, though this figure varies from boat to boat and from company to company.

You’re paid at the end of the season, with expenses docked accordingly. Lodging on the boat is provided but you’ll pay a percentage for food, satellite phone calls you made while on board and anything else you may have ordered from SeaSwift, an open water delivery barge for snacks, magazines, etc. 

The average season of Tiger Prawns (four months) will earn you about $10,000, potentially a little more or a little less. Banana Prawns, on the other hand, are far more lucrative. On average you’ll take home about $15,000 for a ten-week season, but that figure could be as high as $20,000, if you get a good catch.

How do I get a job? Most skippers do their own hiring every season. Your best bet is to march down to any of the wharves in person before the Banana prawn season or Tiger prawn season and ask as many people as you can about available jobs, with Cairns being a good place to begin your search. (Ports North in Cairns, NT are options, and smaller operators are often good choices for backpackers.) Some of the bigger fishing companies include Austfish, and Raptis, all of which have websites with contact information but have fewer openings for short-term job seekers. If you’re overseas, try contacting the fleet manager, who’ll have a good idea which skippers are looking for extra crew.

What time of year should I go? There are two main seasons for fishing in Australia, Tiger Prawns (Aug-Dec, approximately 4 months), and Banana Prawns (April-June, 10 weeks). Most boats start preparing about a month before each season commences. If you’re looking to go out for Tiger Prawns, you can catch the boats when they come in from Bananas Prawns at the end of June. Otherwise, show up at either of the wharves in March or July.

Can I go through a recruiter? Recruiters in Australia provide excellent services and are necessary to keep the farming and hospitality industries supplied with staff.

The fishing industry, however, seems to operate in its own universe. They rely mostly on word of mouth and person-to-person contact. Keep in mind these are fishermen; they spend most of their lives on the open water with only a satellite phone to connect them to the civilized world. You won’t get nearly as far online as you will in person.

Can women do this work? Absolutely. Since the industry is predominantly male for obvious reasons, women are greatly appreciated on the trawlers. Though women usually work as cooks in the galley, when the nets are full it’s all hands on deck. Expect hard work, sleepless nights, and the occasional inappropriate comment from someone on deck.

View from the Galley.
View from the Galley.

Rest assured the rewards will far outweigh the challenges. Working the trawlers is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a part of a true-blue brotherhood. The community is a tight-knit, hard-working, and hard-partying group.  Fishing will be an experience you won’t soon forget. 

Night sky over ocean near Australia.
Night sky merges into the ocean near Australia.

A Few Final Pointers

* You’re required to have $5000 to enter the country on a working holiday visa, though most backpackers will tell you that the Australian government does not verify this.

** Although Australia has reciprocal working holiday agreements with countries all over the world, Americans are not eligible for a second year visa. Don’t let that stop you. The fishing industry can be incredibly lucrative even for the unskilled worker. A few months of hard labor could fund quite an adventure — an excellent option for someone who wants to hit the road pronto but finds herself short on funds.

Amy Knapp writes about all things career-related at InsideTrak, an Australian job search engine for Australians and backpackers alike.

Related Topics
Jobs Abroad
Short-Term Jobs in Australia

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