If you're interested in helping seafood remain a sustainable and ecologically sound food source, a career in aquaculture may be a good fit for you. Read on to learn what it takes to cultivate aquatic animals and plants, including how much education you'll need and how much you can earn in the field.

Is Aquaculture for Me?

Career Overview

Aquaculture, or fish farming, is a specialization of agriculture involving the cultivation of aquatic organisms, such as finfish, mollusks, crustaceans and plant life, within a controlled environment. More than half of the seafood humans consume is provided by the aquaculture industry, making it a vitally important sector of food production. Aquaculture is also used in producing pharmaceuticals, stocking recreational fishing ponds and restoring depleted fish populations.

Career Options

An associate's degree program in fish management or aquaculture sciences might qualify you for a position with a private aquaculture facility or in a county or state water management agency. However, most government agencies prefer candidates with at least a 4-year degree in a relevant field of study. Potential employers can include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Park Service or U.S. Department of Agriculture. In the commercial food industry, you might find work as a fish hatchery manager.

As an aquacultural manager or marine biologist, you may be employed by a pharmaceutical research lab, aquarium, zoo or theme park. Completion of a master's or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) program is usually required for a position in aquaculture research.

Employment and Salary Information

As reported by O*Net Online, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor and its Employment and Training Administration, employment of acquacultural managers was projected to decrease by 3% or more nationwide from 2012-2022. As of May 2013, the median annual wage for aquacultural managers was $70,110 (

How Can I Work in Aquaculture?

Undergraduate Programs

Certificate and associate's degree programs are offered in aquaculture sciences and fisheries management; however, a bachelor's or master's degree in aquaculture or fisheries and wildlife may improve your chances in the job market. In an aquaculture degree program, you may study biology, chemistry, physics and math. You might also have the opportunity to focus on more specialized topics, like invertebrate zoology, ecology, microbiology and fish biology. The study of fish, mollusks and crustaceans can also be found in an aquaculture studies program.

Master's Degree Programs

In a master's degree program in aquaculture, you'll study the nutritional needs, physiology and reproductive processes of primary aquaculture species, both vertebrate and invertebrate. Through advanced coursework, you might also explore the biology, genetics, morphology and diseases of fish. The business aspects of fish farming may also be included, along with a comprehensive examination of fish production methods and water quality management. Internships and a written thesis are typically part of a master's program.

Ph.D. Programs

If you want to do scientific research or teach at the college level, you'll most likely need a Ph.D. in Aquaculture or a related field. Although each program is different, your coursework might include topics in fisheries management, ichthyology, fish ecology and limnology. The degradation and loss of aquatic habitats due to pollution is an important area of research for doctoral students, as are finfish genetics and aquatic animal diseases. A dissertation based on an original project is typically required for graduation.

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