You'll need a high level of physical fitness, an interest in the management and care of fish and a love for working outdoors to be a successful fish farm manager

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.

Fish farming, or aquaculture as it is commonly known, is an intensive animal husbandry business. The work involves managing and maintaining fish habitats throughout the year, taking care of stock health and welfare issues and feeding the fish either manually or using automated machinery.

Responsibilities

As a fish farmer, you'll need to:

  • calculate the feeding regime, which is often done by automatic computer systems;
  • monitor the health of the fish and treat them when appropriate;
  • plan breeding programmes and grow schedules to obtain maximum efficiency;
  • adhere to environmental standards;
  • understand legislation and how to implement this into practical application;
  • ensure the water supply is of a sufficient quality for the stock;
  • be aware of different water management techniques;
  • adapt to new technologies as they develop and learn practical skills;
  • pay close attention to detail, in order to avoid expensive fish losses in what can be a high-risk industry;
  • possess stock skills such as fish handling, spawning, grading and harvesting;
  • update knowledge of fish health and nutrition;
  • maintain records of stocks;
  • sell fish products and assist the general public - this may apply if you work for a farm that also offers other retail and leisure activities, such as angling;
  • market and sell the fish - although this responsibility depends on the individual farm;
  • hold a full driving licence - depending on the farm this may be necessary, if it is in an isolated position, and if you are required to transport the fish for sale.

Salary

  • Typical starting salaries range from £15,000 to £18,000.
  • Mid-level salaries with a few years' experience are likely to be in the region of £20,000 to £30,000.
  • At senior level this can rise up to £45,000 with considerable experience (e.g. after ten to 15 years in the role).

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

Working hours are long at certain times of year and may involve regular weekend and evening duties, as well as emergency callouts.

What to expect

  • Fish farms are located nationwide in the UK, with major concentrations in Scotland and smaller numbers in North Yorkshire and the South of England.
  • You'll split your time between working outdoors and 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.
  • 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.

Qualifications

A relevant degree or HND in any of the following subjects may be useful:

  • agriculture;
  • applied chemical and biological sciences;
  • aquaculture;
  • biology;
  • environmental science (biological);
  • fisheries studies/management;
  • marine sciences/oceanography;
  • veterinary science;
  • zoology.

A degree or HND is not essential as practical skills and experience are often considered more important.

A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not needed but undertaking a postgraduate course in aquaculture and related fisheries management can be advantageous for those who would like to work in this sector.

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 are offered by certain farms. Programmes differ throughout the UK, so check with your national apprenticeship provider for full details

Skills

You will need to have:

  • high levels of physical fitness;
  • people and resource management skills;
  • business and social skills as managers have to deal with customers regularly (often major wholesalers);
  • numeracy, for calculating feeding regimes and for invoicing purposes.

Work experience

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 practical skills and to see if you are suited to the work.

This is a highly competitive field so contacting fish farm owners speculatively is likely to be more productive. There are good opportunities in Scotland and on other large farms. Contact farms directly, or through recruitment companies, to enquire about vacation work.

Employers

Typical employers are mainly commercial fish farms, such as Marine Harvest, which largely specialise in salmon and trout rearing.

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:

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:

Professional development

You will be given training 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 your post will 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.

In addition to relevant experience, employers expect graduates to possess an academic understanding of fish farming. Several universities and colleges offer relevant postgraduate courses in fisheries management; search postgraduate courses in fisheries management.

The Institute of Fisheries Management runs a correspondence course leading to a Certificate in Fisheries Management and also 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.

Career prospects

Many fish farms are small and owner-managed, with the owner doing most of the work. Others are bigger concerns, with clearly defined hierarchical structures, where opportunities for promotion to more senior positions are more obvious.

You could eventually decide to teach fish farming, and related courses, at universities and colleges. Government establishments and feed manufacturers sometimes have research opportunities.

As well as opportunities throughout the UK, you could also consider working in Europe and other countries, especially in East Asia.