Raising fish for food is not as hard as you think. All you need is a bit of space and a small amount of equipment. As with all types of farming, the best thing to do is research, go on courses and get lots of advice from experts.
If you are ready to raise your own fish, here is a short guide to help you get started.
If you are considering raising fish, please make sure that you abide by the welfare guidelines and that water conditions in the facility and the care and feeding of the trout are always properly maintained. You can find a summary of your legal duty of care for keeping fish here.
LICENCES & DOCUMENTS
Whether you intend to raise fish, shellfish or crustacean, you will need to apply to the Fish Health Inspectorate (FHI) for authorisation. This is to prevent the introduction and spread of infectious disease. All the details on how to do this can be found here.
It’s an offence to introduce or keep controlled non-native fish or shellfish without a licence. However, you do not need an ILFA licence to keep the following species:
- Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio)
- Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss, other than anadromous steelhead)
You don’t need a licence to keep the following species in ornamental wholesale and retail premises, indoor aquariums or garden ponds (discrete bodies of water no bigger than an acre, on private residential premises with no risk of fish escaping into the wild):
- Grass Carp (Ctenopharyngodon idella)
- Sturgeon (Acipenser and Huso)
All new fish systems irrespective of size may require full planning permission depending on where you live. Application forms are available online here.
SELECTING A SITE
When selecting a site for backyard fish farming. Please try and select sites near the house for easy accessibility and security.
It is always a good idea to consult an expert.
You can easily raise fish in a backyard pond all year round if you know what type of fish is best for your area. You also need to decide what size pond you want to have, which is dependent on the size of your backyard, and number of fish you wish to raise.
Types of ponds:
You can use any pond such as earthen pond, galvanised steel, concrete or plastic. The use of any type depends on the nature of the soil type and amount of money you have. For example, an earthen pond is very cheap to construct but limited to areas where there is clay oil, underground or water nearby water source.
Find our more about Earthen Ponds here.
If you don’t use your swimming pool, why not transform it into a biologically active fish farm.
The pool must be cleaned correctly and plants need to be established before introducing fish, as well as the all-important oxygen-generating algae. Algae forms on its own when allowed, and the best plants to introduce are those you’ll find in natural freshwater environments in your area (lakes, ponds, rivers) as these are best suited for your climate.
The biggest thing stopping a decent increase in the fish population is oxygen. To regularly eat from the pool, you will need to incorporate a water filter/oxygenation system. A biological filter would make the water clearer – so, if you wanted, it could still retain the pool’s original purpose (swimming!). Increased oxygenation also tends to keep algae from getting out of hand.
If you have a greenhouse, the combination of fish culture and hydroponics (aquaponics) provides a truly symbiotic and effective technique for growing both fish and vegetables.
Aquaponics is the growing of veggies and fish in a closed loop system and is perhaps one of the more efficient farming methods for growing your own food. The grow beds and tanks can be any size, shape or material, but the best material is fibreglass. It’s also scalable and can produce large amounts of food 10-20 times traditional row cropping when combined with vertical high-density gardening. The water from the fish tank, including waste from the fish, is pumped through the grow beds, which are filled with gravel or clay balls. The plants convert the ammonia from the fish effluent into nitrates and the resulting filtered water is pumped back to the fish tank. It’s a closed system and, unlike aquaculture or hydroponics, no water is wasted.
Find out more here.
CHOOSING A SPECIES
There are many different species of fish that can be used in a backyard fish farm, depending on your local climates and available supplies.
In deciding what is the best species for you to grow, you should take a few factors into account, most importantly is what you want from your system. You may want to grow an edible fish that can live year-round in your area, so that you’re not having to harvest fish out seasonally. The second most important factor is ‘What’s available?’ You need to be able to buy fish to stock your system, even with species such as Tilapia that breed readily, you need to get your broodstock in the first place.
4 Common Aquaculture Stock in the UK:
- Rainbow Trout
- European Perch
NUMBER OF FISH
This can be quite a hot topic of debate amongst people who practice backyard fish farming. Just remember, the higher the stocking density the higher the likelihood of things going wrong. In very heavy stocking densities, you need to keep a constant eye on all water parameters to be sure that conditions are kept at the optimum. If you lower the stocking levels of fish then you lower your levels of risk and stress.
Ultimately the amount of fish you can safely keep in your system depends on many factors, feed rates, water flows, oxygen levels, number of plants, pumping rates, fish species and water temperature, to name a few of the major factors.
Use a quality aquaculture pellet (organic if possible) to feed your fish, you can supplement this with alternate feeds like worms, maggots, black soldier fly larvae and plenty of other different types of alternative feed, however it’s always good to have the basis of a pellet feed there as an essential component of the fish diet.
So how much do you feed your fish? Feed your fish on a regular basis, depending on water temperature and the biology of the species concerned (a little and often is a good rule of thumb). Adjust the amount of food you offer your fish to ensure they remain fit and healthy. Any uneaten food should be removed from the system before it sinks and rots consuming oxygen from the water while increasing ammonia levels.
Fish always need the clean water to which they are accustomed. (This may not be your tap water which may require treating before it is suitable). Make sure the water quality remains suitable for the fish being kept (in some situations test kits are an essential purchase not an optional extra).
Ensure that you purchase fish suitable for the system in which you want to keep them. If unsure always seek advice.
Ensure that you do not exceed the correct stocking density in your system. Remember when purchasing them that the fish will grow and increase in size.
Make sure you don’t buy fish that would fight with there own or other species or are known to be very territorial, or fish that require significantly different water parameters (e.g. temperature, salinity, pH) than the fish already in your system.
When you are away, ensure that your fish are cared for by a responsible person (e.g. a neighbour coming to feed them correctly). Remember most people over-feed fish, so ensure anyone looking after your fish understands their feeding regime. If you are away for just two weeks, then, providing the fish are well-fed and healthy, that filters etc are clean and fully operational and the water is in good condition it may be best not to involve a non-fishkeeper to look after them.
STRESS & DISEASE
Generally, fish “get sick” consequently to stressing situations, such as handling, crowding (too many fish in the same space), loud noise or bad quality water (MH3+ or NO3 may have risen too high).
You can understand whether your fish are in a status of stress by observing their behaviour. If your fish does change behaviour, it could be distressed, ill or injured. If your fish often shows stress-related behavior (e.g. jumping or gasping at the water surface, swimming in an “abnormal” way, flicking its self against plants or other items like air tubes), are the scales damage, the fins closed, or any physical damage, wounds on the body etc. Seek help, consult your local retailer or even a vet. You could be feeding an inappropriate food, the water condition may be poor, the fish could be being bullied or quite simply your fish could be ill.
With all farming, there is no escaping the hard facts of growing and eating what you kill. The only way to kill any animal is quickly and humanely.
All fish that are caught for eating must be handled carefully to reduce stress and humanely killed as soon as possible after capture. Humane killing requires that the fish is stunned (rendered instantaneously insensible) before being bled out.
Fish should remain in water until immediately prior to stunning. There are two methods that can be used to stun fish caught by hand: percussive stunning and spiking (also known as pithing or iki-jime).
Percussive stunning involves a forceful and accurate blow to the head with a blunt instrument. The force required will depend on the size of the fish. The blow should be aimed just above the eyes to impact on the brain. The effectiveness of the stun should be checked and another blow applied if the fish is not unconscious.
Spiking involves driving a sharp spike (such as an ice pick or a sharpened screwdriver) into the brain of the fish. The spike should be placed in a position to penetrate the brain of the fish and then pushed quickly and firmly into the skull. The impact of the spike should produce immediate unconsciousness. The spike should then be moved from side to side to destroy the brain. Visit www.ikijime.com for a detailed description of this process.
After stunning or spiking, the fish should be bled out by cutting the gill rakers or, with larger fish, a main artery.
The following methods are not suitable for killing fish as they do not result in a rapid or humane death: chilling with ice in holding water, carbon dioxide in holding water; chilling with ice and carbon dioxide in holding water; salt or ammonia baths; asphyxiation by removal from water; bleeding out without stunning.
HOW TO FILLET A FISH
PRESERVING FISH SAFELY
Freshly caught fish spoil easily and need to be properly preserved. The four most popular methods of fish preservation are freezing, canning, smoking, and pickling.
Find out more here.
UK FISH FARMING COURSES