How to Become an Aquaculture Farmer: Education and Career Roadmap

Find out about the requirements to become an aquaculture farmer in this video. Learn about the job description and duties, and see the step-by-step process to start a career in aquaculture.

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Should I Become an Aquaculture Farmer?

Aquaculture involves any aspect of breeding, raising, or processing aquatic animals and plants for consumption or for release. This production is generally conducted in artificially contained water habitats, ponds, oceans, or coastal waters under controlled conditions. Aquaculture farmers are knowledgeable in the life cycle and the biology of the species they farm. They must know how to treat diseases and maintain the proper environment for plants and animals to ensure maximum production and health. They must also conform to all state and federal regulations associated with aquaculture farming.

Many farmers, including aquaculture farmers, are self-employed and have a good deal of professional autonomy. They can spend many hours outdoors or in aquatic environments, and their work can be physically demanding. Overall, however, job opportunities in the farming industry are predicted to decline significantly over the 2012-2022 decade, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Generally, farmers have high school diplomas, but more are obtaining bachelor's degrees
Degree Field(s) Aquaculture, biology
Experience Varies widely, but most have prior farming experience
Key Skills Ability to recognize illness or infestations, physical strength and stamina, problem-solving abilities, knowledge of water chemistry, proficiency with aquaculture equipment
Salary $68,050 (2014 BLS median for farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural managers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and job postings (May 2012), O*NET OnLine.

Step 1: Learn About Aquaculture Farming

There are several ways to learn about becoming an aquaculture farmer. One is to work on an aquaculture farm and learn on the job from the owner/operator. Another is to utilize the many formal and informal educational resources available, including those from the National Aquaculture Association. The other is to attend college. Degree programs in aquaculture may be part of agriculture or biology departments. Degree programs offer courses in biology, microbiology, parasitology, ichthyology, microbiology, and fishery/hatchery management. There is usually an internship as part of the graduation requirement.

Success Tip

  • Find a mentor. For the person who wants to start his or her own aquaculture farm, there are resources available from state agencies, state extension offices, and local organizations. Working aquaculture farmers may be willing to offer help and training to those looking to work in the business. One of the best ways for someone to learn the trade is to apprentice with an experienced aquaculture farmer.

Step 2: Research Regulatory Requirements

Aquaculture is a regulated industry. The extent and nature of regulations depend on the state where the farm is located. Coastal states have regulations specific to farming in coastal waters, some of which may be state-owned. Landlocked states have regulations, too, dealing with contained or natural waters. The federal government also has regulations pertaining to discharging waters containing fish excrement. Before setting up an aquaculture farm, it's important to know all the regulations that will affect the business operations, so that preparations can accommodate any state requirements and restrictions.

Success Tip

  • Ask an agency for guidance. State agencies are there to help aquaculture farmers comply with state regulations. State websites often have step-by-step instruction documents that outline what is required for each type of aquaculture farm. Make use of this valuable resource.

Step 3: Establish a Facility

A potential aquaculture farmer is going to need a facility in which to raise the product. Each species being raised has unique requirements. Fish require a different set up than plants. Will fish be raised in outdoor ponds or artificial containment systems? Artificial systems differ depending on the species of fish raised and whether they need still or moving water. The facility must be designed for the species to be raised and must be efficient to improve productivity. If the farmer is using coastal waters, state-approved containment systems must be established. Ocean farming requires cages in the ocean.

Success Tip

  • Learn from established aquaculture farms. The budding aquaculture farmer can learn exactly what his or her facility and equipment requirements will be by visiting working aquaculture farms that raise the same species as an aspiring farmer. An examination of an existing facility will provide valuable information about set-up, equipment, and methods that have proven to be most successful and profitable.

Step 4: Obtain Required Permits or Licenses

In some states, an aquaculture facility must have a permit just for existing. The state may require additional permits or licenses for breeding, transporting, processing, releasing, selling, and any number of other functions related to an aquaculture farm. Once again, the kind of permits or licenses required depend on the state. Some permits may require inspections. Some may require the license or permit be displayed in public view. Some may have reporting requirements. The important thing to remember is to make sure the proper permits or licenses that apply to the business the aquaculture farm is engaged in are in place, to ensure a trouble-free start to business operations.

Step 5: Establish Suppliers

It is going to be necessary to obtain starting stock or plants, regardless of whether the farm is for breeding, raising, processing, selling live, or releasing to the wild. The farm will also require supplies like feed, water purification products, and equipment specific to the species that is being raised. Species-specific or regional aquaculture organizations, such as the American Tilapia Association, can be a valuable resource for finding reputable and quality suppliers.

Success Tip

  • Find reliable suppliers. When finding suppliers for aquaculture stock, be sure that the suppliers chosen meet all requirements for healthy, disease-free stock.

Step 6: Locate Buyers

The final step before beginning production is to find buyers to purchase the species being raised. This may be local retailers or restaurants for fish being raised for food. In other situations, the aquaculture organization associated with the particular species being raised can often connect buyers and sellers. Once potential buyers are found, the farming operations can begin without worrying about how the finished product is going to be marketed.

Step 7: Continue Education and Gain Experience for Career Advancement

Aquaculture is quickly becoming a vital industry as global demand grows for more sustainable and manageable food sources. There are several career advancement options for aquaculture farmers who pursue continuing education and gain experience. These include positions with government and regulatory agencies, large scale aquaculture operations, and aquaculture industry sales.

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