How to start fish farming

How to Start Fish Farming in 5 Steps

Fish farming involves raising a variety of aquatic animals, such as fish, mollusks and shrimps in an enclosure such as a tank or pond. With the surge in demand for healthy animal protein the  demand for fish and fish products is on the rise. 

Fish farms have the potential to produce fish for home consumption at about $0.90/lb which is a considerable saving when compared to supermarket prices of over $2.00/lb.

If you are interested in exploring opportunities in fish farming, then this article will help you understand various aspects involved in making it sustainable and profitable in the long run.  Just like any other opportunity,  fish farming also requires the right combination of natural resources, good management abilities and sufficient capital. 

What is Fish Farming 

Fish Farming

Fish farming is basically a process of nurturing different species of fish in a tank or fish pond for commercial purposes. 

For most people, growing fish is probably a new experience, and there is much to be learned. You need to start by understanding the needs of a particular fish species, water quality feeds, harvest, and marketing requirements. 

The five major types of fish that you can grow on your fish farm are:

  • Tilapia
  • Catfish
  • Bass
  • Salmon 
  • Shrimp

Step by Step Guide to Start Fish Farming 

#1. Determine the Purpose of Fish Farming

The first step for fish farming is to determine what you are going to do with your full-grown fish. You need to know the purpose, whether you are going to keep fish as a pet or for fish meat. 

This will decide a lot of things like the space requirements, equipment and capital requirements. 

If you intend to keep fish as a pet for showcase then a small tank or a backyard small fish farm is sufficient. 

If you intend to put a small fish farm with one or two ponds then also with a little business mindset you can market 1000 to 2000 lb of fish.  

But, if you are looking to produce fish for commercial profits then you need a large commercial fish farming. This will also require you to set up a business entity and have a business mindset.

#2. Decide the Type of Fish

Types of Fish

The costs associated with raising different types of fish varies because different fish need certain temperature water to live. The type of fish also decides the requirement of equipment and the feed cost. 

Here are the water temperature requirements and other details for certain common fish used for farming.

Fish Water TemperatureDetails 
Tilapia64-90 *F (18-32 *C)Tilapia are easy to raise and are eaten around the world.
Tilapia is hard enough to tolerate different water conditions.
CatfishCatfish fingerlings – 65-68 degrees F (18-20 *C)
Catfish – 83-86 degrees F (28-30 *C)
Catfish is tougher in terms of resistance to disease and parasites. 
They also grow quite quickly.
BassPrefer – 80 degrees F (27 degrees Celsius)

Range- 65-85 *F (18-29 *C)
Raising bass may require extra holding tanks, as you have to keep them according to size. 
Salmon55 and 60 *F (13-16 *C)Require more specific conditions than the other fish
ShrimpGrows well at temperatures above 68°F (20 *C)Cannot tolerate temperatures below 60°F (15 *C)

Impractical to grow in indoor tanks due to cannibalism

#3. Get Permit and Licenses

There are lots of laws about raising fish and animals, and even more, stringent laws related to raising animals that are going to be consumed as food. 

Before starting fish farms or fish hatchery of any size or type it is advisable to check local laws and the need of permits  to do so in your area.

Normally you will get a license to operate your fish farm for a year which will be renewable. You need to submit the following documents to apply for the license:

  • Filled in application form
  • Sketch or aerial map of the facility layout, including dimensions
  • Copy of fish health certificate
  • Copy of stocking permit
  • Letter of a written permission from the landowner (in case if you are not the landowner) 

#4. Equipment Required for Fish Farming

Pumps

Pumps-for-fish-farming

Pumps are needed for water filling and water circulation. You will need high-quality pumps that ensure a consistent  supply of freshwater to the pond. 

You will need pumps that can supply 15-25 gallons per minute flow per acre of pond.

Pumps should also keep the water supply in case of the water lost through evaporation and infiltration into the soil.

You will use pumps mostly in pumping water in or draining out of the pond. 

Water Testing Kit

The water testing kit is helpful in knowing the water quality for fish growth. The testing kit measures the pond’s pH balance, ammonia content, nitrite levels, and phosphate content. 

The water testing kit will also help in  ensuring  the right levels of minerals and vitamins are present in the water that are essential for fish growth.

A minor imbalance of these minerals is detrimental to fish health because it disturbs the oxygen level in the water.

Net

You need to buy nets depending on the size and depth of fish ponds. Large mesh nets must be used for harvesting bigger fish while small mesh nets must be used for smaller fish.

You use the net for two purposes;

  • Gathering fishes for harvesting
  • Catching large amounts of fish for sale

Aeration Devices

Aeration devices for fish farming

Aeration devices may be necessary to give the fish an adequate supply of oxygen. Aeration devices allow you to have more fish in less space as well. 

The aeration devices are also helpful in recycling the water after removing impurities.

Fish Feeders

Mechanical fish feeders eliminate the manual labor in fish feeding and controlling the quantity and timing of feed. The fish feeders are also helpful in reducing feed wastage.

#5. Area Required for Fish Farming

You can have a small fish tank in the backyard of your house or an indoor tank with a limited number of fishes. 

But large scale fish farming businesses cannot be started in any location. You are not allowed to start a fish farm business in a residential estate in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.

You are permitted to start a fish farm only in farmland designated for fish farms which is usually around the coastal areas or swampy areas.

Apart from that, you can decide the land for fish farming in terms of size, soil quality, and source of water. 

You also need to check  flood proneness and the probability and intensity of flood in your area.  Muddy flood water may affect the health of fish and even reduce oxygen levels that may lead to a major loss.

Size of Tank

Pond for fish farming

You can start with a 21m x 10m fish tank initially. But you must have enough land to create bigger tanks when you feel like scaling up the business.

For larger-scale pond-based fish farms, you will need several ponds, a good amount of land, and a substantial amount of additional equipment. This will depend on the scale on which you want to build your fish farm.

The pond should be 4-6 ft water depth, smooth bottom, drainable. For commercial fish farming on a small scale, you will need at least one surface acre of pond.

Soil

Soil is highly important because the quality of soil decides the quality of fish. Make sure your soil has 20% clay. 

Building your fish farm on land which is capable of holding water is possible with soil that is high in clay. For creating a pond a flat land with gentle  slope is the best.

You should take soil for testing before starting a fish farm. So that you can improve the quality of the soil before you initiate your farm.

Capital Requirement for Fish Farming

If you are doing commercial fish farming , regardless of the type of fish you raise, it is highly-unlikely to book any profit in the first year.  You have to invest money in pond construction, water management and maintenance, and the equipment & labor in starting your fish farm.

You will need more than two fish production cycles before booking any reasonable  profit from the fish farming activity.

#1. Capital Required for Land & Construction 

The capital requirements vary with the scale of your fish farm. You need to purchase or take the land on lease which will depend on the property rates in your area.

For constructing a fish pond, the costs, in general, will be about $1500-$2000/surface acre. However, large ponds are generally less expensive per acre than small ones.

Initial start-up costs about $3000/acre of water (does not include the cost of land).

#2. Fish Farm Production Costs

Depending on the type of fish that you intend to farm, you will need fingerlings (fish seeds or small fishes). Fingerlings will cost you around $0.08-$0.24 each.

After which you need a constant supply of fish feed of about $0.14/lb to $0.18/lb per fish. You will need about 1.5-2.0 lb of feed /lb of fish produced.

In general, the cost/lb of fish produced comes to about $0.60-$0.70.

Benefits of Fish Farming

  • Fish farming provides an entrepreneurial opportunity. With a bit of learning and capital, you can start your own fish farming business.
  • Fish farming can be integrated into the existing agricultural farm to create additional income and improve its water management.
  • The farmed fish provides a regular supply of high-quality protein for human consumption.
  • Fish farming would also preserve other marine species that are harmed by overfishing.

Risk and Drawbacks of Fish Farming

  • Fish are very sensitive and even a minor mistake can lead to degradation or even death of the fish.
  • Setting up fish farms is capital-intensive as compared to poultry and turkey farming. To start a fish farm you require more careful planning and a lot of money. A relatively small fish farm (cage) may require 1 square meter to build, while a larger farm (pond) requires 8.5 square meters.
  • You require permits and need to maintain fish health.
  • Unlike poultry, in fish farms, there are no by-products that you can sell to for additional income.
  • Due to production costs, fish from farms cost more than fish from rivers and ponds. You may find it hard to sell because people prefer cheaper fish.

Final Words

If you have all the resources and the required capital for starting a fish farm, even then it is advisable to start small with one or two production ponds or a few cages in an existing pond. 

This will give you valuable experience of technique, requirements, cost, and supply chain in early days of your fish farming. Later, with experience, you can expand your fish farm as per your needs.