A fish farm manager is responsible for the breeding and rearing of fish for the wholesale or retail trade. Farms breed their own fish by hatching eggs from adult stock, or sometimes by buying in young fish, and then rearing them before selling on to purchasers.
The work varies considerably and includes a wide range of skills. Fish farm managers can be responsible for:
- managing fish habitats throughout the year;
- stock health and welfare issues;
- feeding stock either manually or via automated machinery;
- maintenance of equipment and cages;
- selling on to the public or trade customers.
Fish farming, or aquaculture as it is commonly known, is an intensive animal husbandry business, and it is essential that post holders have an enthusiasm for fish and their welfare.
Some farms, like those for trout, tend to be quite small and stable and employ few staff, so the fish farm manager is likely to undertake a great deal of varied tasks.
Other farms, such as salmon farms, are larger and employ a lot of staff. Salmon farms are located in many parts of the world including Scotland, Norway, Turkey and Chile. Tasks are many and varied and can include the following:
- calculating the feeding regime, which is often done by automatic computer systems;
- monitoring the health of the fish and treating them when appropriate;
- planning breeding programmes and growing schedules to obtain maximum efficiency;
- adhering to environmental standards;
- understanding legislation and how to implement this into practical application;
- ensuring the water supply is of a sufficient quality for the stock;
- being aware of different water management techniques;
- adapting to new technologies as they develop and learning practical skills;
- paying close attention to detail in order to avoid expensive fish losses in what can be a high risk industry;
- possessing stock skills such as fish handling, spawning, grading and harvesting;
- updating knowledge of fish health and nutrition;
- maintaining records of stocks.
Additional duties might include marketing and selling the produce, although this depends upon the individual fish farm.
Some farms specialise in retail and leisure activities, such as offering angling facilities, so the work may involve selling fish products, or assisting the general public.
- Range of typical starting salaries: £15,000 to £18,000.
- Salaries at senior level/with experience (e.g. after 10 to 15 years in the role) range from: £20,000 to £45,000.
Salaries vary according to level of responsibility, stock and location.
In many cases salary packages include extras such as the availability of accommodation and use of a vehicle. Overtime and bonus payments may be offered.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours are long at some times of year and may involve regular weekend and evening duties and emergency callouts.
What to expect
- Work is mixed and is carried out outdoors as well as in the office managing staff, resources and using IT planning programmes.
- Fish farm managers usually work in isolated conditions with a small team of staff.
- It is possible to become self-employed, but it may be difficult to find the right location and to raise the capital.
- Freelance work, such as acting as a consultant, vaccinating fish or providing sickness or holiday cover may be possible but only with many years of experience.
- Fish farms are located nationwide in the UK, with major concentrations in Scotland and smaller numbers in North Yorkshire and the South of England.
- International fish farm companies have sites across the world, so there are opportunities to work overseas.
- Currently, the majority of fish farm managers are male.
- While there may be occasional travel within a working day, absence from home at night and overseas travel are not very common.
- Holding a driving licence is very valuable, as driving to deliver stock to customers or to pick up supplies are frequent duties on a fish farm.
The following degree subjects are particularly relevant to the role:
- fisheries management;
- applied chemical and biological sciences;
- marine sciences/oceanography;
- environmental science (biological);
- veterinary science;
A relevant degree may be useful but is not essential; practical skills and experience are considered more important.
HNDs are being phased out in favour of foundation degree courses so fewer are becoming available for study. The following subjects may improve your chances:
- environmental science (biological);
- fisheries studies.
Entry without a degree or HND is possible. Many fish farms are very small and do not demand high-level academic qualifications.
A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not needed. However, attending a postgraduate course in aquaculture and related fisheries management courses can be advantageous for those who would like to work in this sector; and a PhD is essential for those wishing to go into research. Typical areas of research include disease, reproduction and genetics, nutrition, production systems, as well as environmental factors that affect the aquatic world. Search for postgraduate courses in aquaculture.
Modern apprenticeships can be offered by certain farms. Programmes can differ throughout the UK so check with your national apprenticeship provider for full details
You will need to have:
- high levels of physical fitness;
- people and resource management skills;
- business and social skills: managers have to deal with customers regularly (often major wholesalers);
- numeracy, for calculating feeding regimes and for invoicing purposes.
Pre-entry experience is essential. It is highly unlikely that anyone without the practical skills used in fish farming would be successful in gaining a post.
It can be helpful to get a vacation job on a fish farm to develop the practical skills and to see if you are suited to the work. Investigate postgraduate courses. Recruitment is throughout the year so check relevant publications regularly.
Contacting fish farm owners speculatively is likely to be more productive. This is a highly competitive area. There are good opportunities in Scotland and on other larger farms. Contact the farms directly, or recruitment companies, to enquire about vacation work.
Typical employers are mainly commercial fish farms, largely specialising in salmon and trout rearing (e.g. Marine Harvest).
However, there are commercial farms that rear turbot, halibut, a range of coarse fish and shellfish.
Some of these farms produce fish for the retail trade, whereas others rear fish for restocking rivers, lakes, ponds and angling centres. A small number breed ornamental fish for sale to pet shops and aquatic sales centres.
Other possible sources of employment include:
- Environment Agency (EA)
- Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA)
- The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS)
- regional water authorities;
- district salmon fishery boards - see The Association of Salmon Fishery Boards (ASFB);
- government and research association fish farms;
- leisure facilities including aquariums and sea life centres.
Those universities and colleges that offer degrees in fish farming and related subjects (e.g. Plymouth, Stirling and Bangor) normally conduct research on behalf of the government or for associated industries, such as manufacturers of fish feed and treatments for disease. You will need a PhD to be employed as a lecturer or researcher in this setting.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Angling News and other angling magazines.
- The Daily Telegraph Jobs
- Fish Farmer
- Guardian Jobs
- The Daily Telegraph Jobs
- New Scientist Jobs
- The Times
- Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) often have placements abroad.
- Local and regional press.
- Local recruitment agencies and job centres sometimes handle vacancies in relevant areas.
Training is often provided on the job, although many employers will expect entrants to have reasonable technical skills (acquired through work experience), as well as a sound academic grounding in the subject.
The training opportunities available often depend on the size of the fish farm.
The first six months of a trainee post involve doing basic manual work under the supervision of experienced staff. Once they have adapted to the particular working methods of their employers, graduates in fisheries-related subjects are often given supervisory or managerial responsibilities.
Employers expect that, in addition to relevant experience, graduates possess an academic understanding of fish farming. Several universities and colleges offer relevant postgraduate courses in fisheries management; search postgraduate courses in fisheries management.
Correspondence courses leading to a Certificate in Fisheries Management and a Certificate in Fish Farming are offered by the Institute of Fisheries Management. They also offer a more advanced level Diploma in Fisheries Management.
These qualifications are recognised by many employers and entitle their holder to professional status within the institute. This would be particularly useful for those entering the industry with non-relevant degrees and diplomas. Short courses in conjunction with the British Trout Association are provided by Sparsholt College.
Fish feed companies provide training in aspects such as fish diseases.
Many fish farms are small and owner-managed, with the owner doing most of the work. Others are bigger concerns as the trend is towards larger units around the world. There are more possibilities for promotion to deputy manager and manager in the latter, which employ more staff.
In larger companies, a clearly defined hierarchical structure may be in place, so trainees start as general fish farm staff before progressing to more senior positions.
Experience is essential for advancement but qualifications can help. There are limited chances to be your own boss, as a lack of financing may affect your ability to expand or buy your own fish farm.
There is the possibility of teaching and assisting with fish farming and related courses at universities and colleges. Furthermore, there are research opportunities at government establishments and/or feed manufacturers.
There are opportunities to progress throughout the UK, in continental Europe and in other countries, especially in East Asia.