How to Start a Fish Farming Business

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There are several types of fishing farming businesses. You can grow fish to be eaten as, to be stocked for anglers, or to supply aquariums.

Fish farming doesn’t always require a large body of water. For many species, fish farms can be located indoors or outdoors.

Getting started raising farmed fish does require a significant financial outlay. You can make good profits, depending on the type of fish farming you do and the fish species you choose.

We’ll take you step by step, from how to get started to how to run the business.

What is a Fish Farm?

A fish farm is a place where fish are artificially bred and grown. The name for the practice of fish farming is pisciculture.

Composite fish culture can be a type of pisciculture. In this type of fish culture, five or six species of fish are grown in the same pond.

Pisciculture is part of aquaculture. Aquaculture also includes growing crustaceans and mollusks.

Why You Should Start a Large-Scale Fish Farming Business

It can be expensive to start large-scale fish farms and much of the work involves physical labor. So why start large-scale fish farming?

  1. Fish are seen as the main source of seafood for the next 20 years.
  2. Already, 30% of the fish eaten each year by people are grown on farms.
  3. Compared to farming land animals, the business of raising fish is growing at 3 times the rate.
  4. Farms can be located in ponds, pools or tanks, or in cages/nets in off shore cultivation.
  5. Commercial fishing is limited by quotas and is seasonal. Farming fish can take place year round, with no limits to the number you raise.
  6. Fish farms can be profitable and environmentally friendly.
  7. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, wild populations of fish are at risk, and raising farm fish can supply the world’s need for food.

Indoor Fish Farming Vs Outdoor: Which is the Best Business Model?

Fish need oxygen, fresh water and food. Whether or not you choose to operate indoors or outdoors depends on your ability to provide those 3 key elements in your chosen location.

You may be thinking outdoors if you already own land with existing ponds. But existing ponds aren’t always the best choice, often because they are too deep. That makes it difficult to net fish.

Pond systems shouldn’t be more than 4 to 6 feet deep, and should be drainable. You need a reliable source of fresh water. As a general rule, you need 15-20 gallons per minute per surface acre of water.

With indoor or outdoor systems, water must be pumped from a well to get to those numbers.

Indoor systems eliminate potential problems such as escaped fish and predation. With indoor it is easier to maintain optimal water quality, because you’re not subject to outdoor elements. It is also easier to control the temperature.

Some fish like the water quite warm. Tilapia, for example, need a water temperature between 82-86 F degrees.

How Much Does it Cost to Start Fish Farming?

Costs vary between indoor and outdoor set ups for raising fish. Building a pond can cost between $3,000 and $10,000. Indoor tanks can be less expensive, from $1,000 to $3,000.

Let’s look at basic needs for raising fish – oxygen, water and food.

  1. Oxygen – whether you’re indoors or outdoors, you’ll need a water recirculating or aeration system. You can get by with an aeration system, for each tank or pond, and one of those will cost between $1,000 and $3,500. An integrated water recirculating system can cost a significant amount, from $10,000 to $100,000.
  2. Water – You’ll need a minimum flow of 15 gallons per minute per surface acre of water. Obviously this cost would be exorbitant if you used metered water. You’ll need a good well.
  3. Food – Commercial feed, pellets or fish meal, are readily available. But feed is 70% of operational cost. Some large scale farmed fish operations produce their own fish food pellets or fish meal. Farmed fish are artificially fed. Fish such as salmon can be fed smaller fish.

If you’re constructing ponds, expect a cost of about $2,000 for each acre of surface area.

After meeting the basic needs, you’ll need to calculate the cost of insurance. You’ll need a comprehensive policy so that you’re covered by “crop” failure. Fish can be wiped out by disease, or die because of mechanical or electrical equipment failures.

How To Start Fish Farms: 11 Crucial Steps

You have a myriad of decisions to make. Beyond deciding whether to operate indoors or outdoors, there are other key choices. What kind of fish should you farm? What type of business will your farmed fish supply – the food industry? Sport angling?

One consideration that will help you make a choice is to take a look at competition in the area. The fish farming segment of the aquaculture industry is steadily growing. If someone in your geographic location already has a lock on live tilapia, for instance, you may want to consider other fish.

1. Decide on the Fish Species You will Farm

Freshwater – Tilapia and catfish are the most common species grown in the US. Both are fast growers. Tilapia are often the chosen species for indoor fish farming because of their need for a constant warm water temperature between 82 and 86 F. Worldwide, carp (Common, grass, silver and Rohu)are the most commonly grown species. Rainbow trout are the most common trout species grown.

Saltwater – Atlantic Salmon farms are a big niche of the aquaculture industry. Farmed salmon can be grown in cages or net pens that are set into salt water. Bluefin tuna are another popular fish species, also grown in a cage system or net pens, to keep them separate from wild fish.

Glass eels are the juvenile stage of the European eel and an important part of the food chain. They are grown and cultivated as a fish feeds for species that are carnivores, such as farmed salmon and other aquatic animals and marine mammals. They aren’t grown to become food. They are key parts of the food chain when you’re raising fish – such as bluefin tuna and even salmon – that eat other smaller fish.

British Columbia and Vancouver Island lead the world in salmon farming. Asian markets lead the world in demand, with South America showing strong growth.

2. Choose Your Fish Farming Method

Classic Fry Farming – Using a flow through system of tanks, trout are raised from eggs to fry (fingerlings). This is a common method to raise trout to be released for sport anglers.

Single species – indoors or outdoors, one species at a time. In the fishing industry, this method is advised for newcomers to farming fish

Composite fish culture – Five or six species are raised in a single pond. The species must be noncompeting. In other words, the species have different needs for food and habitat.

3. Name Your Business

You need to name your business and register it with your secretary of state. Check to find out if you need specific permits to use existing ponds.

4. Create an Amazing Business Plan

You’ll need capital to buy needed equipment and a system to keep water clean and aerated. The integrated recycling systems are expensive, but the price has come down in recent years due to numerous technological advances.

Check into government-backed loans. Fish farming as part of aquaculture systems is considered to be an “alternative” agriculture organization. As an alternative agriculture organization, it may qualify for special financing.

Parts of the Plan:

  • Start small. Gain experience raising fish while reducing the likelihood of disaster.
  • Set aside capital for startup costs. Pursue loans as needed after you’ve had successful production
  • Know your target market and begin promoting your business.
  • Calculate operating costs.

5. Handle the Legal Stuff

If you’re going to do fish farming outdoors, you need to research any possible environmental impacts and regulations. You could create a negative environmental impact if you pond discharges into a waterway that continues onto another property. Fish can produce a significant amount of waste.

You can also be cited and fined if your fish escape and mix with wild fish. That could possibly cause disease in wild fish or introduction of nonnative species in the natural environment.

If you’re going to be selling fish alive, you’ll need to look into regulations involving their transport.

Obtain the required permits to operate your business. Decide how you want to set up your business – are you a sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation or limited liability company?

6. Decide on a Location

What’s the perfect location to build a series of ponds? The best soil type for ponds has a lot of clay.

Pond design is different for different species. Catfish are bottom feeders. Other species, such as carp, lurk near the surface. Other fish inhabit the water depth in between.

There are elements in pond design that don’t change. You need good inflow and outflow, into an irrigation ditch. You need enough space between ponds to allow for moving equipment, feeding and harvest. You may have to provide screens and other protective barriers to protect the fish from predators.

You need to protect the surrounding environment from any waste produced by the fish.

7. Acquire All the Equipment Needed

Pumps – Aeration is essential. Fish need sufficient oxygen to survive and grow.

Water testing – water quality and temperature should be monitored 24/7. Sometimes chemicals must be added in small quantities to balance the water pH.

Water treatment – a water purification system. An ultraviolet light is also recommended to kill pathogens.

Hydroponic beds – Not a “must have” but an attractive system. Here’s how it works. Fish are being raised indoors in tanks or vats. Nearby, hydroponic beds are positioned for growing plants. The waste water from the fish tanks fertilizes the plants in the hydroponic beds. The most common pairing for this set up is tilapia and herbs.

Heavy equipment – If you’re operating indoors, this can be as simple as having basic equipment for moving feed from a storage building to the fish growing building. If you’re outdoors, you’ll need heavy equipment that can maintain the inflow and outflow areas of the ponds, even reconstructing areas if needed.

Nets – you’ll need nets or cages if you’re growing fish such as salmon in the sea. New studies have proven that nets made of a copper alloy are a big improvement. The copper alloy in the nets prevents the growth of algae and fungi. Copper alloy nets can also be used for harvest.

8. Design Your Pond

Remember, deep ponds aren’t needed. In fact, if you’re starting with a deep pond, you’ll want to construct cages to restrict the fish to that depth. The pond should only be 4-6 feet deep. The size depends on your farm design.

Here’s a rule of thumb to factor: The stocking rates of a pond are based on surface acreage, not pond volume. The stocking rate is from 2,000 to 6,000 pounds per acre. The rate is dependent on the species of fish.

How many gallons of water are in a pond? If you wanted a pond with a million gallons, it would be 267 feet long, 50 feet wide and 10 feet deep.

9. Create Your Pond

The best land for pond construction is flat or gently sloping, with plenty of clay in the soil. Remember to leave land around the ponds, to make it easier to feed and harvest the fish.

You can hire a contractor for this work.

10. Hire Staff

The best manager is a person who knows how to monitor water.

Feeding the fish is like most farming businesses – there are chores that have to be done every day. Fish can’t go over a weekend without food or attention to their water quality.

Also similar to many “land” farming industries – you may hire seasonal staff at harvest time.

11. Market Your Fish Farm

There are two ways to sell fish:

  • Wholesale – live fish sold to processing plant.
  • Retail – Fish sold directly to groceries or restaurants. Retail sales typically earn $1 more per pound than wholesale.

Running Fish Farms: A Complete Guide

You’ve built it. What’s next? Let’s review.

Optimum Conditions for Raising Farmed Fish

Plenty of water flow, oxygen and food.

Feeding the Fish

You’ll need about 1.5 to 2 pounds of feed per pound of fish produced.

Given the current cost of feed, the cost to product one pound of fish is about 60 cents.

Fish are usually fed two times a day.

Harvesting the Fish

If outdoors, ponds are sometimes partially drained to make netting easier.

Past methods of harvesting fish have been prohibited and replaced by humane treatment. Fish are killed by percussive or electric stunning.

Things to Consider Before Starting

Just as with “land” farm crops, conditions must be monitored and adjusted as needed throughout the process.

Inflow and Outflow

You need a 15-25 gallon per minute flow per acre of pond. Inflow and outflows must be kept free of debris.

Drainage

Ponds must sometimes be drained, so that you can remove vegetation and dredge out mud.

Disease Control

Fish can be challenged by all kinds of health issues, such as fungi, intestinal worms, bacteria and protozoa.

Sea lice (fish lice) can be a disaster. They latch onto the skin of fish, especially salmon, and can spread through water. Via water spread, the sea lice can infect a wild fish population.

Predator Control

Some species of ducks eat vegetation and some eat fish. But ducks, and geese, can be more of a problem for fish. They are part of the life cycle of common fish parasites.

Mammals such as raccoons and bear can enjoy an easy fish meal.

Water Pollution

Poor water quality can happen from storm water run off, especially during periods of heavy rains. Anything that’s on the ground surface in the area can be washed into outdoor fish ponds.

If water becomes poor, fish won’t survive.

Space Between Ponds

You need space between ponds to drive and move equipment for feeding fish and harvesting fish. You may also need to do maintenance on ponds, especially to the inflow and outflow. These areas must be accessible by heavy equipment.

Environmental Concerns

If you’re farming outdoors, take care to keep the fish in the structures you’ve built. Take away the potential of farm fish getting out and becoming an invasive species, or introducing disease into wild fish populations.

How do I start fish farming?

Research the market demand in your area. Figure out what species you’d like to grow. Decide whether to be indoor or outdoors. Gather capital and make a business plan.

What is aquaculture?

It is the controlled cultivation and harvesting of aquatic creatures including fish species, crustaceans and mollusks.

Is fish farming easy?

No. It one of the many agribusiness examples, and it shares similarities with all farming. It combines technical knowledge with hard labor. And despite your best efforts, you can still have crop failure.

How much does a fish farmer make per year?

According to statistics from 2021, a fish farmer averaged a salary of $44,000 to $54,000 annually.

What is the most profitable fish to farm?

The top fish to farm in the US are tilapia, catfish, and salmon. Each is typically raised very differently from each other.

Tilapia is usually raised indoors. That’s because the fish requires constant warm water from 82-86 degrees F. The temperature range is critical. Too cold and they die.

Catfish are popular for outdoor ponds. They are comparatively easy to raise and disease-resistant.

Salmon are raised in the ocean or brackish water cages and pens. The market demand for salmon has steadily grown for the past 20 years.

Profit can be greatly increased. Remember that fish food is 70% of your operational cost. Many large-scale farms are producing their own fish feed. Salmon feed is most often live fish.

Can Fish Farming be Green?

Absolutely. In fact, it is known for its environmental sustainability. It hasn’t been without controversy. It’s been decried as a practice that is unnatural and overcrowds fish.

Image: Depositphotos

This article, "How to Start a Fish Farming Business" was first published on Small Business Trends



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