This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Aquaculture farmers manage the breeding, raising and harvesting of fish and shellfish for commercial purposes in marine or freshwater farms.
Aquaculture farmers with one to three years’ experience usually earn
$32K-$48K per year
Aquaculture farmers with more than three years’ experience, or in supervisory roles, usually earn
$50K-$70K per year
Source: NZ Salmon Farmers Association, 2016.
Pay for aquaculture farmers varies depending on experience.
- Aquaculture farmers with one to three years' experience usually earn between $32,000 to $48,000 a year.
- After three years' experience they usually earn between $50,000 and $70,000.
Source: New Zealand Salmon Farmers Association, 2016.
- PAYE.net.nz website – use this calculator to convert pay and salary information
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website – information about minimum pay rates
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Aquaculture farmers may do some or all of the following:
- tighten, clean and mend lines, ropes, racks and nets on aquaculture farms
- feed and care for growing fish and shellfish
- harvest and pack fish or shellfish
- dive to clear any debris or dead fish from fish pens
- drive and navigate boats
- maintain marine farm equipment
- plan work schedules and prepare budgets
- keep records on growth and health of fish or shellfish
- train, supervise, manage and assess staff.
Skills and knowledge
Aquaculture farmers need to have:
- knowledge of how to grow and harvest fish or shellfish
- practical skills such as being able to tie knots and splice ropes
- boat-handling and navigational skills, including the ability to read charts and use a compass
- basic mechanical skills
- an awareness of health and safety practices.
Diving skills are also recommended.
- often work more than 40 hours' a week, may work shifts and weekends
- work in rural areas, coastal waters or holding ponds and tanks
- are required to work in all weather conditions.
What's the job really like?
Young Achiever went from cadet to skipper
The last thing Jade Anderson expected when he started work as an aquaculture farmer was to win a Young Achievers Award. "I won the award at a mussel conference in 2002. It was great because I proved to everyone that I could achieve a lot. I started off right at the bottom as a cadet and worked my way up – now I'm one of the relieving skippers for the company."
After he left school, Jade completed a marine farming cadet course, where he learned about marine farm maintenance, sourcing, harvesting and seeding. "I also did six weeks in a hatchery learning about some of the biological processes associated with marine farming, such as spawning and fertilisation. Then I ended up skippering a farm maintenance vessel."
Travelling through the Sounds for work beats sitting in an office
Jade now helps to look after and maintain about 800 lines of greenshell mussels around the Marlborough Sounds, which involves visiting up to 10 farms a day. "We're always outside travelling around the outer Sounds, which is much nicer than being stuck in an office behind a computer."
Rowan checks out the salmon farming industry – 5.49 mins. (Video courtesy of New Zealand Seafood Industry Training Organisation)
Clinton: That’s great news, because those are skills you can use as a shift worker on a salmon farm. Mark Preece is the sea farm manager for King Salmon, and he’ll be showing you around. So what makes a good apprentice?
Mark: A good apprentice is someone who enjoys living in the great outdoors, working in the Marlborough Sounds – it’s absolutely beautiful out here. Someone who can get on well with a small team of people, and doesn’t mind staying away from home for a bit of time.
Clinton: The farm is located 15 minutes out of Picton.
Mark: Dip your feet in here, Rowan, to take off any bacteria or stuff that you might have come in contact with while you were on the land.
Clinton: Each pontoon has four 20 by 20-metre nets that are filled with 30,000 fish per cage. That’s a lot of fish, so Rowan’s back out on a boat to do a quick check to see if any seals have broken into the farm. Seals are the wolves of the sea and the farm has a reinforced outer net to keep them out.
Mark: Seals will eat probably five or six kilos of fish a day, so if you multiply that out over the year and they’ll probably take out about a tonne per seal, so that’s a lot of fish.
Mark: Salmon farming is growing fish in the sea. What we do is we have brood stock down in our freshwater hatcheries, we strip the eggs from those brood stock, grow fry, then move the smolt to sea when they’re ready to come to sea, and feed them up once they’re in the sea.
Mark: It’s really important with our fish feeding to make sure there’s absolutely no waste, so what we use is this sensor, we set it at five metres depth. The pellets fall through this hole, and they’re detected by the sensor.
Rowan: So it’s electronic?
Mark: It’s electronic, yes.
Clinton: The sensor readings are downloaded to computers so the salmon feed can be monitored.
Mark: Farming fish is a bit more efficient than fishing for them. Basically, we can feed them and grow them a lot more efficiently than in the wild.
Clinton: The fish are anaesthetised by Maurice to avoid stress during the weighing process. Rowan chucks on the dry suit so he can have a go.
Mark: When you pick the fish up, Rowan, you just have to be really careful to keep your hands away from their eyes and their gill area.
Rowan: So do they bite?
Mark: Ah, no – they don’t bite, they’ve got little teeth so you’ll be right.
Mark: That’s OK, let him go, you’re right. Next one. That’s it, nice and firm.
Clinton: It looks like he’s finally got one on the scales…
Rowan: Ahh! It did bite me!
Clinton: Rowan’s been working hard, so it’s time for a cuppa in the farm living quarters. It’s also a chance to catch up with apprentice Lisa.
Rowan: So how long have you been working here?
Lisa: I’ve been working here for five months now.
Rowan: How much time do you get off?
Lisa: We work seven days on and we stay in the barge, then we have seven days off.
Clinton: Lisa lives in Dunedin and car pools with workmates from Christchurch once every two weeks.
Mark: And then in your week off you get a chance to go away, catch up with friends, go for a snowboard – all those sorts of things. Things that people can’t do on a two-day weekend, you get to do every second week.
Mark: Well Rowan, it’s good you’ve got you’re dive ticket. We’re going to hop in the water and have a bit of search round, see if we can find any holes. If we find any, we’ll repair them.
Rowan: Cool. That sounds great, let’s go!
Mark: Basically the whole farming operation is under water, so we need to get down there and have a look at it.
Rowan: Wow that was amazing! They were all swimming and the bubbles were going in circles, it was neat!
Clinton: Get dry quickly Rowan because there’s more work to do.
Clinton: In order to maintain the nets they have to be lifted up and the fish transferred to another pen. Once that is done they can be patched and then cleaned with a high pressure water blaster.
Mark: What you’ve got to do is you’ve got to walk out on the net. You want to be careful and get your balance right.
Rowan: Will this hold me?
Mark: Yeah! It’ll definitely hold you!
Rowan: Are you sure?!
Mark: Yeah easily! Just out in the middle there you might get wet feet…Nah just joking! You’ll be fine.
Rowan: I am in the water! You lied to me! Can I have a go?
Mark: Yeah, get into it!
Clinton: Cleaning helps water flow and extends the life of the nets.
Mark: Hey, Rowan! That looks good!
Rowan: That’s one high-powered water blaster!
Mark: A bit damp in there on the feet?
Rowan: Just a tad.
Mark: Probably should have given you some gumboots eh!
Clinton: He’s come to the end of the experience, so has Rowan got what it takes?
Mark: I think Rowan went pretty well. He’s pretty keen and he’s got a few skills there, and if he’s keen to apply himself then I think he’ll do really well.
Rowan: My favourite part of the experience was diving with Mark in the salmon cage, and sitting on the bottom and looking up and seeing all the fish circling above us. It was pretty good.
Clinton: Salmon farm workers can gain a National Certificate in Aquaculture by completing unit standards while working. Dive training is also done on the job. Shift workers typically start on $29,000 and move into other aquaculture jobs like marine farm management or supervisory roles later. The marine farming sector is worth around $250 million a year, with over 1,000 farms throughout New Zealand.
There are no specific requirements to become an aquaculture farmer, as skills are gained on the job. However, experience at sea is useful.
To gain a qualification, the options are:
- a National Certificate in Aquaculture (Levels 2 to 4, which can be earned while working)
- a Diploma in Aquaculture
- a Degree in Aquaculture.
Managers or supervisors working on boats need to have a skippers restricted limits certificate (Maritime New Zealand's license to operate as a captain/skipper).
A diving qualification may also be required on some farms.
- Maritime New Zealand website - information about the skippers restricted limits certificate
- Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology - information on further study in aquaculture
- NZQA website - information about National Certificates in aquaculture
- Worksafe New Zealand website - information on occupational diving
- University of Auckland website - information about the Bachelor of Science in aquaculture
- University of Otago website - information about the Bachelor of Applied Science majoring in aquaculture and fisheries
There are no specific secondary education requirements to become an aquaculture farmer. However, NCEA Level 1 English and maths may be useful.
A tertiary entrance qualification is usually required to enter further training.
Aquaculture farmers need to be:
- able to follow instructions
- comfortable working on the water
- able to work well independently or as part of a team
- environmentally aware
- good communicators
- efficient time managers and well organised.
Supervisors and managers need to be able to teach and train others, and have budgeting and accounting skills.
Useful experience for aquaculture farmers includes:
- fishing, farming and horticulture work
- shellfish processing
- work with or on boats
Aquaculture farmers, especially mussel farmers, must be reasonably fit and strong as the job can involve heavy lifting.
Aquaculture farmers should also have normal colour vision and good night vision.
Find out more about training
- Primary Industry Training Organisation
- (04) 801 9616 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.primaryito.ac.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Future growth in aquaculture dependent on resource consent for more farms
The aquaculture industry is working towards tripling in size by 2025. The extent of growth depends largely on resource consent to create new farms.
Large number of mussel and oyster farms
There are about 650 mussel farms and 230 oyster farms in New Zealand. About half are owned by small to medium-sized companies, although larger companies are increasingly buying smaller farms.
Two main employers of salmon farmers
There are two large salmon farming employers in New Zealand:
- New Zealand King Salmon, which operates farms in the Marlborough Sounds, and produces about two-thirds of the country's farmed salmon
- Sanford, which has farms in Big Glory Bay, Stewart Island.
- Aquaculture New Zealand, 'Industry Overview', accessed October 2016, (www.aquaculture.org.nz).
- Johnston, C, technical director, Aquaculture New Zealand, Careers New Zealand interview, October 2016.
- Preece, M, chairperson, New Zealand King Salmon, Careers New Zealand interview, October 2016.
Progression and specialisations
Aquaculture farmers may progress to work as managers or run their own marine farms.
They usually work with one species of fish or shellfish. In New Zealand the most commonly farmed species are:
- king salmon
- greenshell mussels
- Pacific oysters.
Last updated 12 June 2017