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Aquaculture is the farming of aquatic organisms in inland and coastal areas, which involves intervention in the rearing process to enhance production and cultivate stock. In the UK, types of aquaculture range from intensive farming, where fish are held at relatively high density and all feed is provided by the farmer (including salmon, trout, turbot and pilot volumes of halibut and cod) to extensive farming of shellfish, where the intervention is limited to the supply and redistribution of juveniles either from hatcheries or the wild (including some scallop, mussel and cockle production).

Due to increased production, employment demands in aquaculture are forecast to increase.

Key statistics:

  • Aquaculture is reported to be one of the world’s fastest growing food-producing sectors.
  • There are approximately 3,150 people working in the industry, of which only 220 are located in England.
  • The industry employs less than 0.5% of the sector’s total workforce.
  • There are approximately 530 aquaculture businesses.
  • 90% of businesses employ less than 10 staff, around 1% employ 50 or more staff.
  • 83% of the workforce is employed full-time, 13% part-time and 4% casual workers.
  • 16% of the workforce is estimated to be migrant workers (non-UK nationals).

Jobs in the industry include: fish farm worker, fish farm manager, fish farm senior manager, fish farm owner/director, fish farm supervisor, marine operative

Entry requirements for this industry vary depending on the job role. Some jobs require no formal qualifications. However, relevant qualifications and experience can be an advantage, especially for higher paid job roles. Technical/specialist roles may require specific qualifications and/or experience, but some employers may invest in training a suitable individual.

Drivers for change in the industry are:

  • Economic changes – Financial investment is required for new businesses and small scale producers to make the most of this growth. Market competition is increasing on a global level. The popularity of alternative species (such as farmed sea bass and cod) and ‘sustainable’ varieties (including pollock and hoki) puts pressure on the traditional species in the market. The rising costs of fish feed and fuel prices present additional concerns.
  • Customer demand – The industry has had to work harder and to tighter profit margins to produce the lower priced quality assured and traceable fish/seafood products that customers now expect.
  • Environmental and bio-diversity issues – Sustainable development is required in order to meet conservation principles and maintain the quality of both product and environment (e.g. water carrying capacity needs to be respected).
  • Food security - Worldwide fish stocks are declining each year. Increasing consumer demand however, requires aquaculture production to supplement and replenish the wild reserves in order to satisfy this demand.
  • Technological advances – The industry needs to incorporate ICT skills and acquire technical knowledge in order to utilise monitoring techniques and equipment.
  • Labour – The industry needs to work hard to attract new entrants and to retain current staff.
  • Health and safety legislation - The industry is increasingly required to enhance safety of working environment, to reduce accidents and ill health of staff and clients.
  • Authorisation – Increasing requirements on all aquaculture production businesses to meet regulations and points of compliance and to be authorised by regulatory bodies.

Due to significant changes in the industry, there is an increasing demand for high skill staff. The current and future skills that will become increasingly important include:

  • Business and management skills
  • Communication skills
  • Problem solving skills
  • Technical/job specific skills
  • Environmental management
  • Scientific, husbandry and quality assurance skills
  • IT skills
  • Key skills (e.g. literacy, numeracy, communication and customer relations)

Overall, the level of skill needed by aquaculture workers is expected to increase. Job-specific skills are increasing in importance, as there is high demand for multi-skilled staff who can work across the range of operations involved in fish production.

National and regional data:

  • Scotland – There are an estimated 2,200 employees in the regional workforce, in around 530 businesses. Scotland is responsible for 80% of the total UK fish production. The salmon industry in Scotland represents 85% of the farmed salmon tonnage in the UK. Within the Scottish Salmon industry, 87% of the workforce is male and 37% of the workforce is aged 36-45 years.
  • Northern Ireland – There are an estimated 150 employees in the regional workforce, in around 25 businesses.

[N.B. Employment numbers for the following are too small to be robust so cannot be shown.]

  • East Midlands – There are an estimated 25 aquaculture businesses.
  • East of England – There are an estimated 10 aquaculture businesses.
  • London – There are an estimated 15 aquaculture businesses.
  • North East – There are an estimated 5 aquaculture businesses.
  • North West – There are an estimated 25 aquaculture businesses.
  • South East – There are an estimated 40 aquaculture businesses.
  • South West – There are an estimated 55 aquaculture businesses.
  • West Midlands – There are an estimated 30 aquaculture businesses.
  • Yorkshire and the Humber – There are an estimated 5 aquaculture businesses.
  • Wales – There are an estimated 25 aquaculture businesses.

Pay scales in this industry are variable, so the following only provides an indication of the annual salary paid to some full-time positions:

  • Fish farm workers can earn between £13,000 - £18,000 a year
  • Managers can earn around £38,000

Further information on salaries can be found on the Defra website.

Source: Lantra AACS LMI report 2010