Aquaculture Support Worker

As an aquaculture support worker, you assist aquaculturists and fisheries technicians/ technologists in the operation of hatcheries and finfish, shellfish, and aquatic plant farms. You are responsible for maintaining stock, tanks, and other equipment and are involved in activities such as scuba diving, handling feed, repairing pumps, and changing nets. Because the job involves many hours spent outdoors, working conditions for aquaculture support workers are as variable and challenging as the weather.

At a Glance

Imagine it is a crisp autumn morning, the sun just beginning to burn off the fog as you direct your boat through the still water of the bay. You are an aquaculture support worker and this is how most of your days begin. Dressed in chest waders and a rain shell, you start by feeding the different groups of salmon on the fish farm. There are 25 floating net cages on the farm, each containing thousands of juvenile salmon being reared for food. It is your job to see that these salmon are well taken care of. As an aquaculture support worker, you are responsible for many of the day-to-day activities on the salmon farm. Today, you will spend most of your morning feeding the fish with an automatic feed blower.

As you walk along the metal decking that separates the net cages of salmon, you aim the blower over each cage and shoot feed pellets into the water. Seconds later, the water comes to life with a roar as hungry juveniles race to the surface to devour the pellets. Part of your job is to calculate and measure how much feed goes into each cage to ensure the fish aren't being over- or underfed. While feeding the fish, you also keep an eye out for unusual behaviour or problems with the net cages.

Over the last few weeks, you've noticed that a couple of cages have become increasingly fouled, blocked with barnacles and mussels. Later today, you will replace these cages by sinking new nets under the fouled net cage, raising the two, and spilling the salmon into the new net cage. This is a common activity in the fall: the new net cages ensure the fish have a good supply of fresh seawater and oxygen in order to grow properly. Your biggest priority is making certain these fish are getting what they need and the salmon farm is operating smoothly.

Job Duties

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

  • Assist aquaculturists and fisheries personnel in the operation of hatcheries and aquatic farms.
  • Implement and adhere to farm safety protocols to ensure personnel and team safety.
  • Prepare sacks, ropes, nets, and cages for finfish and shellfish.
  • Tighten, clean, and mend lines, ropes, and nets.
  • Operate equipment such as boats, cranes, forklifts, and feed blowers.
  • Feed aquaculture stocks and report irregularities.
  • Assist farm managers in culling and marking stock according to outlined procedures.
  • Clean, maintain, and repair equipment and enclosures, including scuba diving and snorkeling when necessary.
  • Collect and spawn brood fish.
  • Harvest and transport fish.

Work Environment

Aquaculture support workers work in a variety of locations including, but not limited to:

In the field:

  • Monitoring, maintaining, and cleaning equipment
  • Feeding, grading, and weighing fish
  • Monitoring and maintaining enclosures, including using boats and diving equipment to clear debris from cages and pens
  • Implementing farm safety protocols

In the office:

  • Operating computerized feed and environmental monitoring systems
  • Maintaining databases of information, for example, records of growth, feeding, and mortality rates
  • Communicating on the phone and in meetings with colleagues and supervisors

Where to Work

There are a number of places aquaculture support workers 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
  • Not-for-profit and non-governmental organizations
  • Self-employed consultant

Education and Skills

In most cases, the minimum education requirement to work as an aquaculture support worker is a high school diploma. If you are considering a career as an aquaculture support worker, the following post-secondary programs are most applicable:

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

Certification is not mandatory in order to work as an aquaculture support worker. If you are a high school student considering a career as an aquaculture support worker, you should have strong marks or an interest in:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics
  • English

Role Models

Chris Weaver

"Our family has always been avid fishermen…so I’ve always had a basic interest in fish and wildlife,” says Chris Weaver. As an employee with the Province of Ontario, the aquaculture support worker has translated this interest into a full-time job. Chris works at one of the province’s fish hatcheries, overseeing the development of several species of fish from the time they are eggs until they are released into the wild. For Chris, his job is an ideal combination of duties. "I didn’t want to just do stuff in an office or completely in the field either.”

He enjoys his job, including cleaning the fish tanks, feeding the fish, and ensuring their oxygen and water temperatures are at safe levels. He is especially proud of how the hatchery is helping preserve the province’s natural aquatic environments. "We’re putting fish in lakes…to rehabilitate them, so that the fish will eventually spawn on their own.” Sometimes Chris’s work can get repetitive, but he’s developed ways to counteract the monotony of such tasks as separating unfertilized fish eggs. "You play some music and you talk with the other workers,” and the time flies. The drawbacks of the job are few compared to the satisfaction Chris gets knowing he’s making a positive contribution to the environment industry.

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