It is widely recognized that skippers can have a significant role in their vessel performance levels. However, in many studies that seek to address differences in performance of vessels, the contribution of the skipper is often not quantified, or the influencing factors are not explained. This study examines the effect of social factors, such as family heritage, education and professional expertise, on skipper skill and the economic performance of the Portuguese artisanal dredge fleet. This is done using a stochastic production frontier model and data on the weekly activity of 54 vessels operating during 2013 and 2014. The results suggest that in this fishery age and education levels of skippers are important determinants of efficiency. Experience as a skipper was no determinant of performance, possibly due to the simplicity of the technical equipment onboard. From a managerial perspective, this indicates that local authorities should consider initiatives to enhance the education levels and professional training of skippers, if they aim to improve the effectiveness of artisanal fleets.