Fish are a nutritious, heart-healthy food that accounts for around 16 lbs of the protein Americans eat every year. While consumption hasn’t yet met recommended intake levels suggested by the USDA, it is on the rise — and that’s really good news for fish farmers. In fact, more people than ever are jumping into the industry, which currently enjoys an unprecedented growth rate, feet-first to make their fortune.
From tiny backyard aquaponics setups to full-scale saltwater cages, it’s easier to start a fish farming business than you might think.
Water and Property
If you already have a lot of property in the country, you may be ahead of the game in starting a fish farm. That’s because land — preferably with access to water — is one of the most important assets for fish farming businesses.
Soil sustainability is another major factor in your overall success. An existing pond or lake can be a great starting point, but you’ll need to make sure the soil and water offer an adaptable and nurturing environment for the species of fish you want to raise. Start with field tests to determine what, if anything, you’ll need to change.
If you don’t have the room for a full-blown lake or pond, you may still be able to make do with smaller-scale systems, such as aquaponics. Some people create man-made ponds out of old concrete swimming pools, recycled shipping containers, or even barrels. Just remember that each species has its own individual needs. For example, it probably isn’t reasonable to expect to raise salmon in a backyard pool. You might, however, be able to work with tilapia or another smaller breed of fish.
Beyond the cost of pools or ponds, you must also consider the expense of maintaining your system to ensure your fish remain healthy. This can become far more complicated than you might think. Fish farming is nothing like owning an aquarium; there are far more hurdles to cross and supplies to pay for.
A short list of potential expenses in your first year includes:
- Cost for manual labor
- Pump and aeration tech
- Food and nutritional supplements
- Veterinary services
- Local licensing (if necessary)
- Additional pond or dike pond construction
- Crates, nets, heaters, and traps
Safety measures are also critical, including insurance policies, fences, signs, and locks on cages in and around the property. For large-scale farming endeavors, you’ll also need to be able to prove you aren’t contributing to pollution or producing undesirable environmental run-off that might pollute the water table.
Don’t forget the added costs of using a fish processor as well as packaging and advertising.
For all of these reasons and more, costs to start a fish farm can range from as little as $1000 to as much as $5 million dollars depending on the scale. Still, that shouldn’t necessarily dissuade you from trying to make it work. You just need a solid business plan, a great idea, and a way to set yourself apart on the market.
You can raise just about any type of fish on a farm — provided that you’re willing to do the work and have the right kind of setup. Your facility, ponds, and water-based real estate will determine the kind of fish you can raise, as most species require specific habitats. We’ve listed a few of the most popular here.
- Catfish work well in outdoor ponds and grow rather quickly. They feed on rice and soybeans and take about 21 months to mature.
- Tilapias are easy fish to grow, and they aren’t fussy with feeding. They prefer zooplankton and phytoplankton as their main food sources.
- Salmon are a little more work. They need to hatch in freshwater tanks. Then, they must stay in separate tanks or freshwater channels for around 18 months. From there, farmers move the fish to cages in the ocean to mature fully.
- Perch is popular for its taste, so this type of fish will sell well to local retailers or restaurants. Smaller varieties may work well for smaller setups, too.
As a beginner, it’s good to start off with one species and then expand from there. If you’re planning to seek investors or take out a business loan, you may want to consider diversifying from day one. Just be sure to map out your plan for success beforehand.
Marketing is a major factor in the creation of any business, be it making handmade jewelry, fixing cars in your backyard, or even starting a fish farming business. Ask yourself these questions:
- Are you selling the fish locally to a wholesaler or private market?
- Are you having people come to your ponds to fish or collect fish?
- Which species in your area are the most popular?
- Do you have any competition (e.g., other fish farmers)
- Do you need health, food safety, or hazard licensing?
Retailers may use imported seafood and get it at a fair market price, so there is almost always some competition in most areas. You’ll stand the best chance of setting yourself apart by capitalizing on the fact that your fish are locally-grown with love.
You may want to consider setting up at a fish market or selling to local restaurants. Developing an ongoing relationship will help prove your authority and reliability over time, and that should open up new doors for additional sales.
Packed with vitamins and nutrients, fish is a delicious superfood that will only become more popular over time. Consumers want fresh, healthy fish on their table that they can trust — imports often don’t meet those needs. Owning a fish farm that can deliver a quality product to hungry people could be lucrative and equally rewarding. Whether you start off small or go big, your fishing adventure awaits!