How to Start a Fish Farm

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Our guide on starting a fish farm covers all the essential information to help you decide if this business is a good match for you. Learn about the day-to-day activities of a fish farm owner, the typical target market, growth potential, startup costs, legal considerations, and more!

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Start a fish farm by following these 9 steps:

You have found the perfect business idea, and now you are ready to take the next step. There is more to starting a business than just registering it with the state. We have put together this simple step guide to starting your fish farm. These steps will ensure that your new business is well planned out, registered properly and legally compliant.

STEP 1: Plan your Business

A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. It will help you map out the specifics of your business and discover some unknowns. A few important topics to consider are:

  • What are the initial costs?
  • Who is your target market?
  • How long it will take you to break even?
  • What will you name your business?

Luckily we have done a lot of this research for you. Skip on ahead to the Business Overview for more detailed answers to all your questions.

Choosing the right name is very important. We recommend checking if the business name you choose is available as a web domain and securing it early so no one else can take it.

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STEP 2: Form a legal entity

Establishing a legal business entity such as an LLC prevents you from being personally liable if your fish farm is sued. Consider using a registered agent service to help protect your privacy and stay compliant.

STEP 3: Register for taxes

You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.

STEP 4: Open a business bank account

Using dedicated business banking and credit accounts is essential for personal asset protection.

When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your business is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.

STEP 5: Set up business accounting

Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.

STEP 6: Obtain necessary permits and licenses

Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.

STEP 7: Get Business Insurance

Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.

STEP 8: Define your brand.

Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.

STEP 9: Establish your Web Presence

A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

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Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.

Business Overview

Fish farms operate for the purpose of raising fish for commercial and residential sales. Many different kinds of fish can be raised in controlled environments, from table fare to exotic tropical species. In addition to growing fish for the purpose of harvesting and selling them to restaurants, many fish farms also serve as fun places where families and individuals can go to fish in the ponds and catch their own supper. 

Who is this business right for?

Fish farm entrepreneurs should have a background in farming and have familiarity with basic biology of fish. This job will also involve some manual labor from time to time. In addition, since you’re running your own farm, knowledge of the economics and business of farming is also helpful.

What happens during a typical day at a fish farm?

Overseeing this type of operation, either small scale or large, will require hands-on management of your livestock. Depending on the type of fish you’re raising, you will be carefully monitoring the living conditions and water quality regularly. Other things you may have to do include:

  • Check and service pumps for tanks and ponds.
  • Test pH of water and adjust accordingly
  • Feed fish and check water levels.
  • Extract fish for sale and shipment
  • Contact customers and distributors about inbound and outbound shipments.
  • Train staff on proper farming techniques

What is the target market?

Customer types will vary, depending on the types of fish you are raising. If you are raising fish for sport, re-stocking, or commercial food products, your base will consist of larger businesses, which need a higher volume of fish. Some customers may even consist of state or federal organizations who re-stock depleted natural resources.

If you raise fish for aquariums or as pets, your customer group will be pet shops and specialty fish dealers. You may even choose to have customers contact you directly, in order to expedite sales and cut the cost of the middle man.

How does a fish farm make money?

Fish farms make money through the sales of their farm raised livestock. If your fish farm offers customers the opportunity to catch their own fish, you can also charge for fishing equipment, access to the fishing ponds, and fish cleaning services. 

What is the growth potential for a fish farm?

Fish as a food source is growing in popularity. Fish farms for commercial output are replacing some of the land once used for traditional plant crops. For aquarium enthusiasts, the desire for new and unique, as well as healthy, species is always strong. With the popularity of custom fish tanks also expanding, there will be a need for fish to fill them.

What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful fish farm?

Having knowledge or experience in the business and industry of livestock rearing is important. In particular, understanding fish and how to take care of them is critical. You will also need to be able to connect with and maintain positive business contacts, in order to market and sell your product. Being personable and pleasant, yet shrewd in business, is necessary to continue to be profitable. Immerse yourself in the industry and stay up to date on the trends and moves of the market.

What are the costs involved in opening a fish farm?

Costs will range, depending on the size and scope of the operation you are starting.

If you are starting an aquarium-based farm, you will need:

  • Tanks and pumps
  • Fish food and refrigerators
  • Water aerators
  • Water testing kits and equipment
  • An investment in the initial parent fish or eggs/frye

If you are running at a commercial fish farm you will need:

  • Land for ponds
  • Equipment for excavating ponds
  • Commercial-sized pumps, aerators, and water sources/reclamation devices
  • Boat, motor, and equipment for cleaning and managing the pond.
  • Industrial fish food supply
  • Fish processing equipment for shipping and exporting

Where can I find a business mentor?

One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.

Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.

What are some insider tips for jump starting a fish farm?

Fish farming, like most farm operations, requires hard work and exists in a supply and demand market. Finding a niche or becoming essential to an industry or market is key.

  • Choose species of fish which are popular and hearty to start out. This way you can become familiar with the ins and outs of the business, without the concerns of inconsistent sales or delicate livestock dying off.
  • Gain recognition for being consistent and of high quality in your product. Once you are established as a trusted source, you’ll be able to expand your types of fish and potential customers.
  • Stay aware of market trends and be flexible. The customer will always determine your successes. It is your job to anticipate buyer trends and make the proper business adjustments.
  • Stay aware of new industry innovations and trends. Maximizing the profitability of your company also means understanding your competition.

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Growing Your Business

How to promote & market a fish farm

Fish farming can be an exceptionally profitable business. Find out which local and regional restaurants offer fish on their menus. Contact the owners or managers directly or advertise in restaurant trade magazines or related websites. Becoming known amongst the restaurant community can be essential for continued success.

Having your own website is also a great way to reach an audience. You can advertise through direct marketing or link your website to fish wholesalers, pet shops or farmer’s markets.

If you specialize in ornamental or exotic fish, become aware and active in that community. There are often trade shows and exhibitions where you can show off your fish and attract new customers.

Recommended: Get started with local advertising for your business with a $300 credit from Yelp.

How to keep customers coming back

Make your reputation in the industry as being thorough, of high quality, and consistent in your product. Whether for food or for pets, your fish need to be healthy and hearty. Once customers know your reputation, word of mouth will become much of your advertisement. Additionally, advertising within the industry and attending seminars and trade shows will create new contacts and strengthen existing networks amongst buyers and fellow farmers.

How and when to build a team

Depending on the size of your operation, you will more than likely need a few additional employees to assist with the feeding and maintenance of the fish and ponds. If you are operating a large scale commercial fish farm, you will need a few full-time employees. Ideally, they should have knowledge about livestock farming and fish nurturing and care. If you have a smaller operation, say for exotic or tropical fish farming, you may only need one or two additional employees. Base your employee needs on the demand for your product.

Legal Considerations

Federal Business Licensing Requirements

There are federal regulations regarding what can and cannot be added to, sold as, and processed with food. Attached is a resource from the Food and Drug Administration detailing the process of starting a food business: How to Start a Food Business

State & Local Business Licensing Requirements

Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate a fish farm business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.

Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.

For information about local licenses and permits:

Maintain Personal Asset Protection

Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.

When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.

Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:

Open a business bank account

  • This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
  • It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.

Get a business credit card

  • This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
  • It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
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To learn more about maintaining your LLC's corporate veil, read our guide and protect your personal assets.

Certificate of Occupancy

A fish farm business is generally run out of a plot of land or large building. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO).  A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.

  • If you plan to lease a location:
    • It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
    • Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to a fish farm business.
    • After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
  • If you plan to purchase or build a location:
    • You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
    • Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your fish farm business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.

Food Regulations

When selling food, you will need licensing from a local health department; all establishments serving food are required to pass a health inspection. Tips for faring well on a health inspections

Earning Potential

How much can you charge customers?

For fish re-stocking or for commercial food services, you will sell fish by quantity or by the pound. Depending on the species, prices can range between $10-$30 per pound or ranging from $40 to upwards of $500 per 100 count.

If you are raising exotic or specialty fish, the pricing will fluctuate, depending on the market. Some exotics are sold for upwards of $1,000 per fish. This is, of course, a high end buying group, and you will need to research potential buying group(s) in order to determine which species of fish are most profitable to farm in your area.

What are the ongoing expenses for a fish farm?

Fish farming will have some variation in expenses, depending on what kind of fish and how many you are raising. Average associated costs will stem from:

  • Buying eggs and/or fingerlings for your re-stock purposes.
  • Food and maintenance of the fish.
  • Replacing pumps and oxygen/aeration systems.
  • Digging new ponds or buying additional tanks.
  • Electricity per month.
  • Plumbing maintenance.
  • Insurance for employees and the business.
  • Transporting/shipping of fish in and out of your farm.

How much profit can a fish farm make?

Depending on what kind of fish you’re farming and how large the operation, the annual salary can range between $35,000 to upwards of $150,000.

How can you make your business more profitable?

Some fish farm owners also choose to expand their market base by selling fish related products, such as food, pumps, aeration units, water testing supplies, or harvesting devices. By offering these additional items, fish farmers stay in contact with potential customers, even when not selling fish.

Next Steps

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