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.

How To Start Fish Farms: 14 Key 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 the 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.

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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. Site Selection

Choose a site that has access to clean water and is suitable for the type of fish farming you plan to do. Consider factors like water source, soil quality, and proximity to markets.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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?

7. 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.

8. Water Quality Management

Implement systems to monitor and manage water quality, as it is critical for the health and growth of the fish.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. Fish Health Management

Develop a health management plan to prevent and control diseases. This includes regular monitoring and timely treatment of any health issues.

12. 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.

13. 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.

14. 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

The key conditions for effectively raising farmed fish include ample water flow, an abundant supply of oxygen, and plentiful food. It’s critical to maintain a controlled environment that promotes the fish’s growth and health. Ensuring this not only improves the quality of the yield but also enhances the fish’s resistance to diseases. The oxygen level in the water plays a critical role in the fish’s metabolic activities. Furthermore, an appropriate quantity and quality of feed are integral to the fish’s growth and weight gain.

Feeding the Fish

To achieve a favorable feed conversion ratio, you will need approximately 1.5 to 2 pounds of feed for each pound of fish produced. These feeding ratios are crucial in aquaculture to optimize efficiency and sustainability. With the current cost of feed, it typically takes about 60 cents to produce one pound of fish, making it a cost-effective venture. Generally, fish are fed two times a day to maintain their health and accelerate growth. This frequency can be adjusted depending on the species of fish and their life stage.

Harvesting the Fish

When it’s time to harvest the fish, if the fish are being raised outdoors, the ponds are sometimes partially drained to facilitate netting. The process of harvesting requires careful planning to reduce stress and injury to the fish. Past methods of harvesting fish have been prohibited due to their inhumanity and replaced by humane treatment. In today’s practices, fish are often killed by percussive or electric stunning. These methods ensure a swift and stress-free end for the fish, which can also have positive effects on the quality of the meat.

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.

Fish farms also vary in size and function, catering to different markets – some focus on local consumption, while others target the global seafood market. The choice of species and farming method also depends on climatic conditions, available resources, and market demands.

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?

  • Fish are seen as the main source of seafood for the next 20 years.
  • Already, 30% of the fish eaten each year by people are grown on farms.
  • Compared to farming land animals, the business of raising fish is growing at 3 times the rate.
  • Farms can be located in ponds, pools or tanks, or in cages/nets in off shore cultivation.
  • Commercial fishing is limited by quotas and is seasonal. Farming fish can take place year round, with no limits to the number you raise.
  • Fish farms can be profitable and environmentally friendly.
  • 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.

Large-scale fish farming also plays a crucial role in global food security. With declining natural fish stocks, farmed fish offer a more sustainable and controlled way to meet the world’s growing protein needs. Moreover, advancements in aquaculture technology have made fish farming more efficient and environmentally friendly.

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

Indoor Fish FarmingOutdoor Fish Farming
Land RequirementsCan be set up anywhere with enough indoor space. Existing infrastructure like buildings can be used.Requires land with suitable water bodies or the ability to construct them. Already owned land with existing ponds can be used, but these might not always be suitable.
Depth of SystemDepth can be regulated according to the species of fish and farming requirements.Ponds shouldn't be more than 4 to 6 feet deep to facilitate netting of fish. Depth control can be challenging.
Water SupplyRequires a reliable source of fresh water, likely pumped from a well. About 15-20 gallons per minute per surface acre of water is needed.Same as indoor farming, a reliable source of fresh water is required. It should provide 15-20 gallons per minute per surface acre of water.
Impact of Environmental FactorsIndoors, it's easier to control water quality and temperature, providing a more stable environment. This can be especially beneficial for fish like Tilapia that prefer warm water (82-86 F degrees).Outdoor farming is subject to environmental fluctuations, such as temperature changes, storms, and seasonal variations. These factors can impact water quality and temperature, potentially making maintenance more challenging.
RisksPredation and escape of fish are significantly reduced due to the controlled indoor environment.Outdoor farming has an increased risk of fish escaping and becoming invasive. Predation from birds, mammals, and other fish is also a significant risk.
MaintenanceGenerally, indoor systems require more technical knowledge and can be more labor-intensive due to the need to closely monitor and adjust environmental parameters.Outdoor systems, while still needing regular maintenance and monitoring, can be less labor-intensive as some parameters are naturally regulated.

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.

In comparing indoor and outdoor fish farming, consider factors like climate control, disease management, and scalability. Indoor systems offer greater control over environmental conditions, reducing the risks of diseases and parasites. However, outdoor systems can be more cost-effective and offer more space for expansion.

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.

Costs can also vary depending on the species of fish farmed. Some species require more specialized equipment or feed, impacting the overall startup costs. Additionally, consider the ongoing costs of utilities, labor, feed, and maintenance when budgeting for your fish farm.

Things to Consider Before Starting

Just as with traditional “land” farm crops, conditions in fish farming must be consistently monitored and adjusted as needed throughout the process. This involves checking and regulating water quality parameters like pH, temperature, and oxygen levels. Moreover, keeping an eye on feed quality and quantity is necessary to ensure healthy growth. In addition, regular health check-ups help identify any potential diseases and provide early treatment. Also, note that potential external threats, such as predators or invasive species, need to be managed.

Inflow and Outflow

It’s essential to maintain a steady water flow in the pond of about 15-25 gallons per minute for each acre. This flow aids in oxygenation and the removal of waste products. The inflow and outflows should be kept free of debris to prevent blockage and ensure a healthy environment for the fish. It’s crucial to monitor these flows regularly as changes in flow rate can affect water quality. Additionally, an appropriate inflow and outflow system assists in maintaining the right water level in the pond.


Occasionally, ponds must be drained so that you can remove unwanted vegetation and dredge out mud. This process helps in maintaining the water quality and prevents the accumulation of harmful substances in the pond. Good drainage also aids in controlling aquatic pests and diseases. Moreover, it ensures a healthy environment for the fish and aids in their growth and reproduction. Draining a pond is a crucial management practice and should be performed responsibly to avoid any potential harm to the surrounding environment.

Disease Control

Fish can face a variety of health challenges, such as fungal infections, intestinal worms, bacterial diseases, and protozoa. Regular health check-ups and early intervention can help mitigate these issues. Among these, sea lice, also known as fish lice, can cause a significant problem. These parasites latch onto the skin of fish, particularly salmon, and can spread rapidly through the water. If unchecked, sea lice can pose a substantial threat to both farmed and wild fish populations.

Predator Control

Controlling predators is another key aspect of fish farming. Species like ducks and geese can pose problems for fish farms. They are part of the life cycle of several common fish parasites, which can drastically affect the health of the fish. In addition, mammals such as raccoons and bears can pose a threat by treating the farm as an easy source of meals. It’s, therefore vital to have predator control measures in place to protect your investment and ensure the well-being of your fish.

Water Pollution

Poor water quality, often resulting from stormwater runoff, can occur, especially during periods of heavy rains. Runoff can wash contaminants into outdoor fish ponds, deteriorating the water quality and threatening the fish’s health. Maintaining good water quality is thus crucial to the success of fish farming. If the water quality deteriorates significantly, it can become unsuitable for fish, leading to mass mortality. To prevent this, regular water testing and monitoring are needed, and preventive measures should be in place.

Space Between Ponds

Providing adequate space between ponds is essential for managing and maintaining your fish farm efficiently. This space allows for the easy movement of equipment required for feeding fish and harvesting them. Regular maintenance activities on the ponds, especially concerning the inflow and outflow, also necessitate accessibility by heavy equipment. Adequate spacing also helps prevent the spread of diseases between ponds and facilitates better overall farm management.

Environmental Concerns

If you’re farming outdoors, it’s crucial to ensure that the fish stay within the structures you’ve built. Taking preventative measures can help eliminate the possibility of farmed fish escaping and becoming invasive species or introducing diseases into wild fish populations. The environmental impact of aquaculture is a matter of increasing concern, and responsible practices can contribute significantly to the sustainable development of the industry. As a responsible fish farmer, your role is not only to maximize production but also to minimize potential adverse effects on the environment.

In summary, starting a fish farming business requires careful planning and consideration of various factors such as the type of fish to farm, the farming method, location, cost, and market demand.

With a growing emphasis on sustainable food sources, fish farming offers a viable solution to meet global seafood needs. By focusing on sustainable practices, efficient resource management, and market-driven strategies, fish farming can be a profitable and fulfilling enterprise.

FAQs: Fish Farming

How do I start fish farming?

Starting a fish farm involves several key steps. Begin by conducting thorough market research to understand the demand for different fish species in your area. This will help you decide which species to farm.

Next, determine whether an indoor or outdoor setup would be most suitable based on your location and resources. Indoor systems offer more control over the environment but may involve higher initial costs, whereas outdoor ponds may require less technical setup but need adequate land and water resources.

Securing sufficient capital is crucial, as initial expenses can be significant. Create a detailed business plan that outlines your vision, operational strategy, budget, and projected financials.

This plan will be vital for securing loans or investments if needed. It’s also essential to understand the legal requirements and obtain necessary permits before starting operations.

What is aquaculture?

Aquaculture, often referred to as fish farming, involves the breeding, raising, and harvesting of aquatic organisms such as fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and even aquatic plants in a controlled environment.

It can be practiced in various water bodies, ranging from freshwater ponds and rivers to marine environments like the ocean. The goal of aquaculture is to produce seafood for consumption, restock wild populations, and build aquarium collections.

It also plays a significant role in preserving endangered species and is increasingly seen as a solution to meeting the global demand for seafood while reducing the strain on wild fisheries.

Is fish farming easy?

Fish farming, like any form of agribusiness, requires dedication, knowledge, and hard work. It’s not just about feeding and harvesting fish; it involves managing water quality, ensuring the health of the fish, and maintaining the right environmental conditions.

Successful fish farming demands a combination of aquaculture expertise, business acumen, and the ability to respond to unforeseen challenges such as disease outbreaks or environmental changes. It’s a complex process that requires constant learning and adaptation.

While rewarding, fish farming is a demanding profession that needs a commitment to both the science and the business of aquaculture.

How much does a fish farmer make per year?

The income of a fish farmer can vary widely based on factors such as the scale of the operation, the types of fish farmed, and the efficiency of the farming practices. On average, fish farmers in the United States earned between $44,000 and $54,000 annually as of 2021.

However, this figure can be higher for larger, more efficient operations or those specializing in high-demand species. Income can also fluctuate year-to-year based on market conditions, operational efficiency, and environmental factors.

What is the most profitable fish to farm?

The profitability of farming a particular fish species depends on factors like market demand, growth rate, and the cost of rearing. In the United States, tilapia, catfish, and salmon are among the most profitable species.

  • Tilapia: Often raised indoors due to their need for consistently warm water, tilapia farming can be highly profitable because of the fish’s rapid growth and high market demand. The indoor setting allows for year-round production and better control of environmental conditions.
  • Catfish: Popular in outdoor ponds, catfish are relatively easy to raise and resilient to diseases. They have a steady market, especially in the southern United States, making them a profitable choice for many farmers.
  • Salmon: Farmed mainly in ocean or brackish water cages and pens, salmon have a high market value and demand, especially for species like Atlantic and Bluefin tuna. However, salmon farming requires significant investment and expertise.

For many large-scale operations, producing their own fish feed can significantly reduce operational costs, which can account for up to 70% of expenses. This is particularly true for salmon farming, where feed often comprises live fish.

Can Fish Farming be Green?

Fish farming can certainly be conducted in an environmentally sustainable manner. The key is adopting practices that minimize negative impacts on the environment.

This includes efficient feed management to reduce waste, maintaining water quality to prevent pollution, and ensuring that farmed fish do not escape into the wild, which could disrupt local ecosystems.

Advances in technology have also led to more sustainable practices like recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS), which recycle water and reduce waste output.

Responsibly managed fish farms can contribute to food security while minimizing their ecological footprint, making aquaculture a potentially green and sustainable industry.

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Lisa Price Lisa Price is a freelance writer living in Barnesville, Pennsylvania. She has a B.A. in English with a minor in journalism from Shippensburg State College (Pennsylvania). She has worked as a trucking company dock supervisor, newspaper circulation district manager, radio station commercial writer, assistant manager of a veterinary pharmaceutical warehouse and newspaper reporter.

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