As an aquaculturist, you are in charge of the farming of aquatic organisms, including culturing and growing freshwater and marine finfish, shellfish, and aquatic plants. Aquaculturists specialize in operating, monitoring, and maintaining aquatic farms, including rearing fish classes in natural or controlled environmental such as tanks, ponds, or net cages. Aquaculturists require a broad range of knowledge such as fish health, water chemistry, and mechanical skills, and can work on land-based operations or large freshwater and marine grow-out sites. Aquaculturists play a key role in ensuring the sustainability and quality management of Canada’s aquatic farms.

At a Glance

Imagine you are kneeling on a floating dock peering down into a net cage four meters wide and eight metres deep, carefully watching the school of trout swimming inside the cage. You are an aquaculturist working for a large fish farm, and this cage is one of dozens you monitor daily. But you have been observing these particular fish all morning. You've noticed in the past few days that they seem sluggish and are not feeding as voraciously as usual. You are concerned about their health and are trying to determine a cause for their unusual behaviour.

As an aquaculturist, you know there are a number of factors that could be contributing to the changes in behaviour you have noted in these trout. As the first step in your investigation, you spend several hours monitoring the trout's behaviour and carefully recording your observations so you can accurately describe what is wrong. You also check the cage's equipment to make certain all the pumps and aerators are working properly. The fish are fed a diet rich in vitamins and nutrients, but to rule out malnourishment, you check that food stocks have been stored properly and haven't passed their expiry date.

Water quality may also be an issue: these fish are raised in a natural environment, but their net cages are near the shore of a large lake and share water with summer cottages, boats, swimmers, and other wildlife. You collect water samples from the cages and the lake and send those to the lab to be tested for contaminants. You also gather a few sample fish that will be sent to a fish pathologist for autopsy and bacterial plating. With your careful observations, analytical testing, and aquaculture expertise, you should be able to find the cause of the problem and restore these trout to full health.

Job Duties

Duties vary significantly from job to job, but the following list includes typical job duties one might encounter as an aquaculturist:

  • Manage and operate facilities such as hatcheries, nurseries, and final grow-out sites.
  • Monitor systems and operations, for example, fish behaviour, feed consumption, and water quality parameters such as temperature, salinity, and oxygen levels.
  • Calculate feeding regimes and make necessary adjustments according to observations and husbandry activities.
  • Implement breeding programs and coordinate growing schedules.
  • Maintain records, for example, stock, cage movements, splits, and transfers.
  • Clean tanks and screens and hand-feed where required.
  • Maintain inventory and order supplies and feed.
  • Install, repair, and maintain equipment.

Work Environment

Aquaculturists work in a variety of locations, including, but not limited to:

In the office:

  • Doing paperwork and analyzing data for reporting
  • Maintaining databases of information, for example, records of growth, feeding, and mortality rates
  • Communicating on the phone and in meetings with colleagues, supervisors, government officials, and the public
  • Maintaining inventory and ordering supplies

In the field:

  • Monitoring equipment and operations
  • Monitoring fish behaviour and health
  • Cleaning and maintaining equipment

Where to Work

There are a number of places aquaculturists can find employment. They include:

  • Commercial fish farms and feed producers
  • Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal government departments
  • Colleges, universities, and research institutes
  • Pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms
  • Marine science institutions and aquariums
  • Self-employed consultant

Education and Skills

In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an aquaculturist is a college technical diploma. If you are considering a career as an aquaculturist, the following programs are most applicable:

  • Aquaculture
  • Marine biology
  • Ecology
  • Aquatic biologist
  • Fish and Wildlife
  • Fisheries and Biology

Certification is not mandatory in order to work as an aquaculturist, though many practitioners choose to belong to organizations such as the Aquaculture Association of Canada. High school courses that will prepare you for a job as an aquaculturist include:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics
  • English

Education and Skills

Matt Kennedy

My interest in biology started during my childhood when I spent many summers sailing and beachcombing with my grandparents on Vancouver Island. The people-focused service aspect attracted me to environmental consulting. I wanted to do something that was scientific but also had an applied aspect. One of the best pieces of advice I had as a junior professional working at a consulting firm was to market my skills inside rather than outside the company.

In this way, project managers in the office knew what I was capable of and I found myself being included on more and more interesting and challenging projects. Organizations that hire biologists include government, engineering and industrial firms, research institutions and environmental non-government organizations. These jobs can be found in major urban centers, smaller centers and remote industrial sites. In my seven years of experience since graduate school, I have worked at various levels of seniority both as a field biologist and doing office-based data analysis and report writing.

One of the more interesting projects I have been involved with, the Environmental Baseline Project and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for the Diavik Diamonds Mine in the Northwest Territories, came immediately after graduate school. This diverse, challenging environmental impact assessment was my first involvement in applied environmental work in a consulting setting. Exposure to this project (and others like it) helped me advance rapidly at the start of my career and to set the pace for future projects. To keep pace with regulatory changes and technical issues I use a wide range of sources including libraries, on-line resources and discussion with colleagues. While I may not always have the answer immediately, I typically know where to find it.

My network of professional contacts is the best resource I have for current information and assistance with difficult problems. I am a member of the Alberta Society of Professional Biologists, Calgary Mineral Exploration Group, NWT Chamber of Mines and I attend annual conferences arranged by these groups. My professional training also includes Standard First Aid / CPR, Wilderness First Aid, Electrofishing and Boat Safety. I have also received training in project management techniques and effective client service. The environmental sector is a growing discipline. There is ample opportunity for advancement, salary increase and shareholder status depending on the positions that are available.

There is also an increasing demand for biological services as environmental professionals are more frequently asked to participate in regulatory hearings and legal proceedings. This demand is largely driven by a growing public awareness of environmental issues. The future will bring more challenging technical problems that require people with diverse skills to solve them. Having the expertise to do this kind of work gives you a sense of satisfaction in being part of the solution. I would encourage people to pursue a focused education with a technical emphasis in an area of their choice. Supplement this with a broad range of life experiences - field courses in the summer can be a great experience.

If you find it difficult breaking into this field, be persistent and emphasize your technical skills. Also, be sure to maintain a positive attitude and enthusiasm about all opportunities. Often what is most important is to get started working in the environmental sector. Keep in mind that employers in this area are looking for talented, creative-thinking people who can help them provide solutions to technical problems.

My day might include travel to a remote wilderness location, use of field sampling techniques and interaction with local people or it could be a day in my office conversing with clients, regulatory agencies, and project staff about technical issues, budgets and schedules. Many of the 40 to 50 hours I work each week involve communicating and problem-solving with other professionals such as chemists, geologists, engineers or other types of biologists. I am fortunate to have input into where and what projects I want to work on.

The culture of the organization I work for promotes learning and professional growth. I contribute by making sure projects are on time, on budget and satisfy my client and my own professional standards. As I gain experience, I will continue to look for larger, more challenging projects to get involved with. Our office is currently building a team of professionals who can deliver high-quality service in the natural sciences and environmental assessment areas. Our goal is to become environmental professionals who are well-known and respected for high-quality work and effective service to our clients.

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