David T. Goethel

Commercial Fisherman
David Goethel

As a biologist, every tow I make is an experiment; I marvel daily at the variety and quantity of species that come up in my net. Every day I fish I learn more about the ocean.


B.S., Biology, Boston University


$60,000 - $80,000

What is your current job and what does it entail? 

I am the owner-operator of a 44-foot fishing trawler called the Ellen Diane. I fish out of Hampton, N.H., and am responsible for all aspects of the operation of a successful small business, including the capture and sale of fish, the maintenance of the vessel and fishing gear, the safety of the vessel and crew, insurance, and the permitting and bookkeeping. In addition, I am an advisor to seven state and federal fishery management boards.

What was the key factor in your career decision? 

I began working as crew on a vessel at age 13. I paid for my entire college education at Boston University with my earnings as captain or crew of various vessels. Upon graduation I worked for one winter as a research biologist at the New England Aquarium. I entered work on a cold clear morning and exited with a foot of snow on the ground. I felt totally disconnected from the ebb and flow of the ocean environment I had grown up with, so I returned to fishing.

What do like most about your career? 

All fishermen like the independence of life on the sea. I personally enjoy being in touch with the natural world. As a biologist, every tow I make is an experiment; I marvel daily at the variety and quantity of species that come up in my net. Every day I fish I learn more about the ocean.

What do you like least about your career? 

I intensely dislike many of the government regulations that are making us discard marketable fish to meet conservation goals. Many of these regulations defy common sense. I work very hard, both as a fisherman and a biologist, to offer alternative solutions that will allow us to fish in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner.

What do you do to relax? 

Oddly enough, after spending 250 days a year on the ocean I like cruise ship vacations to foreign countries. Here I get a chance to read books, learn about other cultures, and, best of all, let someone else drive the boat. I also like to fish recreationally.

Who are your heroes/heroines? 

I have always admired anyone who tries to lead by example or who goes against conventional authority when he or she feels they are acting in the nation's interest. In the field of science, physicist Richard P. Feynman, who figured out the cause of the failure of the space shuttle Challenger would be and example. He threatened to go public with his findings if the blue ribbon panel of scientists covered up the truth for political or economic expediency. In his book, What Do You Care What Other People Think?, he states, "The only way to have real success in science, the field I'm familiar with, is to describe the evidence very carefully without regard to the way you feel it should be. If you have a theory, you must try to explain what's good and what's bad about it equally. In science, you learn a kind of standard integrity and honesty." This level of integrity is what I expect from myself and from the scientific community.

What advice would you give a student who expressed an interest in pursuing a career in your field? 

Due to the increasing complexity of government regulations on commercial fishing, some form of undergraduate degree would be useful. This would also give you a fallback position should you decide to leave or be forced out of the fishing industry. To be successful in the sciences, I would recommend a much stronger grounding in English than many scientists currently possess. In addition to being able to conduct the science, you must be able to successfully communicate your results. Many scientists with advanced degrees cannot write grant proposals or scientific papers that are understandable because of a lack of comprehension of basic high school English grammar.

Are career opportunities in your field increasing or decreasing and why? 

Fishing opportunities are fixed by the number of permits, therefore opportunities are limited. Biology is somewhat limited by the huge number of degree recipients. However, there will always be room for people who work hard, have integrity, and are willing to combine blue collar skills with their biology.

What will you be doing 10 years from today? 

Ten years from now I will be fairly old for the daily physical requirements of life on the North Atlantic. Therefore, I would hope to be involved in the public policy aspects of fishing with more time spent ashore helping active fishermen.