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Fish Farmer

Fish farmers breed and rear fish and shellfish for sale, mostly for eating. They may also breed other types of fish for angling purposes or to use in ornamental pools. The main areas of work are:

  • breeding fish, either by hatching eggs from adult fish or buying in young fish and rearing them
  • feeding fish by hand or by filling hoppers that feed the fish automatically
  • grading fish or shellfish by size and moving them to bigger tanks
  • maintaining water quality and preventing disease
  • monitoring the health of fish
  • harvesting fish for eating and sale.

Fish farmers may also do other tasks, such as maintaining buildings and equipment, keeping records and accounts, buying in fresh stock and arranging the sale of fish.

Fish farms operate seven days a week, therefore fish farmers usually work flexible hours based around the jobs that need completing at different times of the year. Most of their time is spent outdoors in all weather conditions. Fish farms are often in remote and isolated places. The work is active and involves a lot of heavy lifting, standing, bending and carrying.

Salaries range from around £13,000 to £45,000 a year or more.

A fish farmer should:

  • be knowledgeable about caring for fish and their environment
  • have energy, strength and stamina for physical work
  • be able to carry out practical tasks and adapt to new technology
  • enjoy working mainly outdoors.

There are estimated to be more than 530 fish farming businesses throughout the UK employing more than 3,000 people. Job opportunities occur in rural areas, mainly in southern and central England, North Yorkshire and southern, western and central Scotland.

There are no set academic requirements to enter this profession, but some employers prefer applicants with GCSEs (grades A*-C). To enter as a manager or assistant manager, specialist qualifications in aquaculture, fish management or fish husbandry are usually required. The Diploma in environmental and land-based studies may be a useful starting point for this area of work.

Once in employment, the Institute of Fisheries Management (IFM) offers qualifications for those wishing to develop their skills and progress.

There may be opportunities to be promoted to assistant manager or manager in larger fish farms. Some fish farmers start up their own farms, or move into scientific or technical work, such as research. There are sometimes opportunities to work overseas.

What is the work like?

Fish farmers breed and rear fish and shellfish for sale, mostly for eating. They may also breed other types of fish for angling purposes or to use in ornamental pools. Fish farmers either breed fish from eggs or buy in young fish from elsewhere and rear them.

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, eg 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, and then transferred to pens in the sea until they are mature and ready to sell.

The main areas of work are:

  • breeding fish, either by hatching eggs from adult fish or buying in young fish and rearing them
  • feeding fish by hand or by filling hoppers that feed the fish automatically
  • 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 freshwater fish farms, 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 the fish
  • monitoring the health of fish
  • treating fish that show signs of infection or disease
  • harvesting fish for eating and sale, which will involve killing and gutting them and packing them in ice.

There may be other tasks required, such as maintaining buildings and equipment. This can involve using hand or power tools for jobs involving carpentry, plumbing and electrical work. Fish farmers may have to keep records and accounts, buy in fresh stock, feedstuff and equipment, and arrange the sale of the fish. Depending on skills and experience, fish farmers may also undertake health checks on fish, mix treatments, examine specimens and take responsibility for routine farm health management.

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

Hours and environment

Fish farms operate seven days a week. Therefore, 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. This will include early mornings, evenings and weekends. There may be opportunities for both full-time and part-time working.

Most of their working time is spent outdoors in all weather conditions. Many fish farms are remote and isolated with limited housing in the vicinity. Accommodation is quite often provided with the job. The work itself is active and involves a lot of heavy lifting, standing, bending and carrying.

Fish farmers may need to collect feed or equipment and make deliveries of fish, a driving licence is required.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • Starting salaries may be around £13,000 to £14,000 a year.
  • Experienced fish farmers may earn between £13,000 and £20,500 a year.
  • Senior fish farmers or managers can earn between £20,000 and £45,000 a year, or more.

Skills and personal qualities

A fish farmer should:

  • be knowledgeable about caring for fish and their environment
  • have energy, strength and stamina for the physical work involved
  • be willing to work outdoors in all weathers
  • be able to carry out practical tasks and adapt to new technology
  • have good literacy, numeracy, ICT and communication skills
  • 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 a team.

Interests

It is important to:

  • have an interest in fish, their environment and welfare
  • enjoy working mainly outdoors, in all weathers, carrying out a variety of tasks
  • have due care for the environment in which farming takes place.

Getting in

There are estimated to be more than 530 fish farming businesses throughout the UK employing more than 3,000 people. 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, from Dunoon in the south, along the west coast to Cape Wrath in the north, and in the Inner and Outer Hebrides and the Northern Isles.

Vacancies for full-time fish farmers do not occur that frequently and are therefore sought after. There is likely to be much competition for jobs that become available.

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

Job vacancies can be found in the national press, by contacting fish farms direct, or in specialist magazines and journals such as Fish Farmer Magazine. The British Trout Association website www.britishtrout.co.uk includes a job advert section. Jobs are also advertised on Pisces TT Jobs website: www.piscesttjobs.com.

Entry routes

There are no set academic requirements, but some employers prefer applicants with GCSEs (grades A*-C). Entry into the profession as a manager or assistant manager usually requires a specialist qualification such as:

  • a degree in aquaculture and fishery management
  • Level 3 BTEC National Award, Certificate or Diploma in fish management
  • Level 2 BTEC First Certificate or Diploma in fish husbandry.

There are also degrees in aquatic sciences and marine and freshwater biology.

The Diploma in environmental and land-based studies may also be useful for this type of work. It focuses on the practical skills, knowledge and understanding of environmental and land-based studies and can be preparation for a career or further study in the sector.

Training

Training is likely to be on-the-job. In addition, the Institute of Fisheries Management (IFM) offers qualifications for those wishing to develop their skills and progress:

  • Certificate in Fisheries Management - aimed at people wishing to run their own fishery, become a fisheries inspector or achieve similar positions in commercially run fisheries
  • Diploma in Fisheries Management - aimed at people wishing to become an area fisheries manager.

The qualifications involve a mixture of distance learning, short field courses, and exams. Contact the IFM for full details.

Getting on

There may be opportunities for fish farmers to be promoted to assistant manager or manager in larger fish farms/fisheries. As there are a limited number of jobs, it may be necessary to move to another location to progress.

Fish farmers with relevant skills and experience may start up their own farms or move into scientific or technical work, such as research. There are sometimes opportunities to work abroad.

Further information

British Trout Association, The Rural Centre, West Mains, Ingliston EH28 8NZ. 0131 472 4080. Website: www.britishtrout.co.uk

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

Lantra, Lantra House, Stoneleigh Park, near Coventry, Warwickshire CV8 2LG. 0845 707 8007. Websites: www.lantra.co.uk, www.afuturein.com and www.lantracoursefinder.co.uk

Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, Durn, Isla Road, Perth PH2 7HG. 01738 587000. Website www.scottishsalmon.co.uk

 Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

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