Fish Farmer

The Job and What's Involved

Fish farmers breed and rear fish and shellfish for sale, mostly for food, although some breed fin fish for angling and ornamental pools. They either breed fish from eggs, or buy in young fish.

Freshwater fish are kept in tanks, ponds, cages, or concrete raceways. Sea fish are usually housed in sea cages or large pens. Shellfish are farmed in their natural marine environment - for example, mussels are reared on ropes hanging in the sea.

There are some differences with salmon farming. These are bred in fresh water for six months to two years, then transferred to pens in the sea until they are mature and are ready to sell.

The main areas of work are:

  • Feeding fish by hand or by filling hoppers that feed the fish automatically. (Shellfish feed naturally from the sea.)
  • Grading fish or shellfish by size and moving them to bigger tanks or other holding units.
  • Maintaining water quality through regular checks on water temperature and oxygen content. On a freshwater fish farm, filters and screens that trap leaves and other debris must be cleaned.
  • Preventing disease through draining, cleaning and hosing tanks, and where necessary, adding chemicals to the water to protect fish.
  • Treating fish that show signs of infection or disease.
  • Harvesting fish for eating and sale. This involves killing and gutting them and packing them in ice.

Fish farmers may also do other tasks such as maintaining buildings and equipment, using hand or power tools for jobs involving carpentry, plumbing and electrical work. They keep records and accounts, buy in fresh stock, feedstuff and equipment, and arrange the sale of the fish.

In larger fish farms, fish farmers may supervise other staff as well as being involved in all areas of the work themselves.

Fish farms operate seven days a week. Fish farmers usually work flexible hours based around the jobs that need completing at different times of the year. In larger farms, they are likely to work on a rota system with other members of staff.

Most of their working time is spent outdoors in all weather conditions - the farms are often situated in quite isolated areas. The work is active and involves a lot of heavy lifting, standing, bending and carrying.

Fish farms need to collect feed or equipment and deliver fish to local buyers, so a driving licence is required.

Fish farmers may start on around £10,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 1,100 fish farms throughout the UK employing about 7,000 people full time and part time. Job opportunities occur in rural areas, mainly in southern and central England, North Yorkshire and southern, western and central Scotland. Salmon sea cage farms are mainly located in Scotland at The Shetland Isles.

Vacancies for full-time fish farmers occur infrequently and there is likely to be much competition for them.

Fish farmers work for private businesses and estates, angling organisations, garden centres specialising in aquatics, and sometimes water supply companies or the Environment Agency.

Job vacancies can be found by contacting fish farms direct, or in specialist magazines and journals. The British Trout Association website includes a job advert and case histories section.

Education and Training

There are no set academic requirements, but some employers prefer applicants with GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3). Entry into the profession as a manager or assistant manager usually requires a specialist qualification such as:

- BSc (Hons) Degree in Aquaculture
- BSc (Hons) Degree in Aquaculture & Fishery Management
- Foundation Degree in Aquaculture & Fishery Management
- BTEC National Award in Fish Management Level 3
- BTEC First Diploma in Fish Husbandry
- NVQ's/SVQ's in Aquaculture Levels 2 and 3

There are also BSc (Hons) Degrees in Aquatic Sciences and Marine and Freshwater Biology.

For course details and entry requirements, contact Edexcel for BTEC courses, the Scottish Qualifications Authority for SVQ's, and universities listed on the UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) website for degrees (www.ucas.ac.uk).

A Few More Exams You Might Need

There is likely to be on-the-job training for people with fish farming qualifications or those who have become fish farmers after working in other relevant jobs. Fish farmers can work towards NVQ's/SVQ's at work, as achieving these qualifications includes workplace assessment.

The Institute of Fisheries Management (IFM) offers qualifications for people wishing to develop their skills and progress:

Certificate in Fisheries Management - aimed at people wishing to run their own fishery or become a fisheries inspector.

Diploma in Fisheries Management - aimed at people wishing to become an area fisheries manager.

The courses involve a mixture of distance learning, short field courses, and exams. Contact the Institute of Fisheries Management (IFM) for full details.

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You may use life saving skills as part of your day-to-day work.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A fish farmer should:

  • Be knowledgeable about caring for fish and their environment.
  • Have energy, strength and stamina for the work involved.
  • Be willing to work outdoors in all weathers.
  • Be able to carry out practical tasks.
  • Be able to swim and, for working with marine fish, have basic seamanship skills.
  • Be able to work alone for long periods, but also as part of small teams.

Your Long Term Prospects

There may be opportunities for fish farmers to be promoted to assistant manager or manager in larger fish farms/fisheries. They may need to move to another location to progress.

Some fish farmers, with relevant skills and experience, start up their own farms, or move into scientific or technical work, such as research.

There are sometimes opportunities to work overseas in other European countries (eg Scandinavia), Asia and Australia.

Get Further Information

British Trout Association, The Rural Centre,
West Mains, Ingliston EH8 8NZ
Tel: 0131 472 4080
Website: www.britishtrout.co.uk

Institute of Fisheries Management (IFM),
22 Rushworth Avenue, West Bridgford,
Nottingham NG2 7LF
Tel: 0115 982 2317
Website: www.ifm.org.uk

Lantra, Lantra House, Stoneleigh Park,
near Coventry, Warwickshire CV8 2LG
Tel: 024 7669 6996
Website: www.lantra.co.uk

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