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

As a fish farm manager, you'll be 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's 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's in an isolated position and you're required to transport the fish for sale.

Salary

  • Fish farm manager starting salaries are usually around £18,000.
  • At mid-level, with a few years' experience you're likely to earn in the region of £20,000 to £35,000.
  • At senior level, with considerable experience (e.g. after ten to 15 years in the role), this can rise to £55,000.

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.
  • Your time will be split between working outdoors and in the office, managing staff, resources and using IT planning programmes.
  • You'll 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

While not essential if you have enough practical experience, a degree or HND in any of the following is useful:

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

A pre-entry postgraduate qualification isn't usually a requirement, though it can sometimes be an advantage. If you wish to study at this level there are courses in aquaculture and related fisheries management.

A PhD is needed if you'd like to go into research. Typical areas of research include disease, reproduction and genetics, nutrition, production systems, and environmental factors affecting the aquatic world. Search 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'll need to have:

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

Work experience

Pre-entry experience is essential. It's highly unlikely that anyone without the practical skills used in fish farming would be successful in gaining a post.

A vacation job on a fish farm can help you to develop practical skills and see if you're 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

The Institute of Fisheries Management reports that there are in the region of 1,200 fish farms in the British Isles, with many salmon sea cage farms in Scotland and on the west coast of Ireland.

The Environment Agency (EA) employs the largest number of people working in freshwater fisheries work in Britain.

Other employers include:

  • commercial fish farms - such as Marine Harvest, which largely specialises in salmon and trout rearing. Some commercial farms rear turbot, halibut, a range of coarse fish and shellfish.
  • Inshore Fisheries Conservation Associations (IFCAs)
  • Natural Resources Wales
  • The Rivers Trust
  • Scottish Office Agriculture, Environment and Fisheries Department
  • Fisheries Management Scotland
  • The Angling Trust
  • The Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS)
  • The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
  • The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources in the Republic of Ireland
  • The Fisheries Division of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development for Northern Ireland
  • The Freshwater Biological Association
  • The Loughs Agency
  • The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA)

Other employers include private water companies and recreational fishing facilities.

Some commercial 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.

Universities and colleges offering 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'll need a PhD to be employed as a lecturer or researcher in this setting.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

You'll be given training on the job, although employers may require you to have reasonable technical skills (acquired through work experience), as well as a sound academic grounding in the subject.

The training opportunities available will often depend on the size of the fish farm you work for.

The first six months of your post will involve doing basic manual work under the supervision of experienced staff. Once you've adapted to the particular working methods of your employer, you can progress towards supervisory or managerial responsibilities. Your progression may be faster if you have a fisheries-related degree.

Although not essential, you may decide to undertake some related postgraduate study to improve your progression prospects. Several universities and colleges offer postgraduate courses in fisheries management.

The Institute of Fisheries Management runs distance learning courses, including a one-year Certificate Course and a two-year Diploma Course. It also produces a helpful booklet offering advice on entry into this career.

These qualifications are recognised by many employers and entitle you to professional status within the institute. This is particularly useful if you’re entering the industry with a non-relevant degree or diploma. 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.