How Much Money Can a Fishery Biologist Make?
Fishery biologists study fish populations, ecosystems and how people can maintain these resources. Some work in fields that contribute to the growing knowledge of fish and habitats while others choose careers focused on managing and conserving fish populations. A fishery biologist's salary depends on education and experience. However, according to the University of California, Davis, entry-level pay for a fishery biologist with a master's degree is around $50,000.
Fishery biologists work for local, state and federal agencies assessing the size and health of fresh and salt water fish populations. They monitor the effects of commercial and recreational fishing, waterfront development and habitat degradation on fish populations and design plans to rebuild and protect fish stocks.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2020, the median salary of fishery biologists was $66,350. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service indicates that entry-level fishery biologist salary is set by federal government pay schedules at grade 9, paying between $47,097 and $61,227 a year as of 2022.
Some fishery biologists chose academic careers at colleges and universities, where they teach and pursue research on everything from the anatomy and physiology of different species of fish to how climate change affects migratory patterns of different species. These jobs require advanced fisheries biologist degrees and experience. According to the BLS, the 2020 median pay for post-secondary teachers was $80,560.
Aquaculture, or fish farming, is a growing industry in the early 21st century that hopes to ease the burden on wild fish populations by meeting the market demand for seafood through cultivation. A fisheries biologist's job description entails managing hatcheries, fish pens, harvesting systems and other components of an aquaculture system. They monitor the growth, health and quality of fish and track how the aquaculture system affects the surrounding ecosystem.
In some cases, aquaculture is used as a method to replenish natural fish stocks, and fishery biologists oversee that process. In 2022, the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission offered a salary range of $34,474 to $54,000 for a fishery biologist to oversee a shellfish aquaculture program.
Fish biologists, or ichthyologists, with experience in genetics, fish health and behavior are finding new opportunities in fisheries forensics. These biologists use their expertise to determine if fish has been harvested according to existing regulations on size, weight, age and sex. Autopsies can reveal if a fish was caught by individuals using illegal gear. Forensic ichthyologists conduct laboratory analysis and testify in court, as explained by the Clark R. Bavin National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory.
Fraud has been a chronic problem in the seafood industry where dealers substitute cheaper types of fish for high-priced fillets. Fish forensics analysts can conduct DNA tests on small samples of fish to determine if consumers are getting what they are paying for. Forensics jobs require extensive education and training. According to Federal Pay, fish biologist salary in federal agencies averaged around $98,189 as of 2020.
- University of California: Careers in Fish Biology
- USDA Forest Service: Fish Biologist
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Postsecondary Teachers
- Clark R. Bavin National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory: About Us
- OPM: Salary Table
Laura Scott has been reporting for Gatehouse Media New England, Essex County Newspapers and other regional publishers since 1997. She won several New England Press Association awards for her coverage of the fishing industry and coastal communities. Scott is a graduate of Vassar College and has a master's degree in American studies from Boston College. She also attended art school in Italy.