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The idea of building a recirculation fish farm is often based on very different views on what is important and what is interesting. People tend to focus on things they already know or things they find most exciting, and in the process forget about other aspects of the project.

Five major issues should be addressed before launching a project:

  • Sales prices and market for the fish in question

  • Site selection including licences from authorities

  • System design and production technology

  • Work force including a committed manager

  • Financing the complete project all the way to a running business.

Sales prices and market

The very first thing is to find out if the fish can be sold at acceptable prices and in sufficient volumes. It is therefore important to carry out a proper market survey before further steps are taken. Fish prices in the shops are very different from the prices you will receive ex farm. Bringing fish from the farm to display at the supermarket is a long process involving procedures for killing, gutting, packing and transport. The costs involved can be significant, and the costs must be included in the overall calculations. The supermarket and so called middlemen will take their share of the profit, and the loss in weight from gutting the fish will of course make a significant difference in the final weight of the fish you are getting paid for.

Site selection and licensing

Selection of a good site is extremely important. Although recirculation technology claims to be water saving the need for water in fish farming is obvious. Ground water is by far the most preferred water source, because of its purity and relatively cold temperature. Water taken directly from rivers, lakes or the sea is not recommended. If seawater is used, it is advisable to construct sand drains or use borehole water. The site selection is also directly linked to the work load when seeking approval from local, regional, or national authorities to build a fish farm. Much too often it is underestimated how long and how difficult it is to get a permission for discharging water from a fish farm. Although the discharge water has been treated thoroughly and all particle removed the nutritious reject water is always of concern to the authorities. It is advisable to have a pre-project made, so that the relevant authorities can be approached in due time for obtaining permits for construction, water usage, discharge, etc.

System design and technology

Many fish farmers tend to design and build systems or solutions themselves, which at first glance is understandable as you want to keep costs down and to have your own ideas incorporated. The best solution is, however, to approach a professional system supplier and discuss the ideas for the technology in mind, and find out together the optimal solution for building the farm. The fish farmer should spend his time operating and optimizing the fish farm operation instead of getting involved in detailed technical solutions and design work. System suppliers most often work in a very systematic way bringing the project afloat from basic design to construction and final start-up of the farm. Some system suppliers even support day-to-day farm management and operational procedures to ensure a proper hand-over and long term success.

Work force

Finding skilled employees is vital, so that the management of the farm can be well taken care of. It is of utmost importance to find an overall operational farm manager, who is fully committed to the job, wanting to succeed as much as the shareholders do. Fish are living creatures and require tight management on a daily basis to grow in a healthy and sound environment. Mistakes or mismanagement will immediately have a huge impact on production and fish welfare. As the aquaculture industry grows and become more professionalised the need for well-educated employees becomes evident. Training and education is increasingly becoming an important part of modern aquaculture.


Figure 4.1 Flow from project idea to end product


The requirement for financing of the complete project is often seriously underestimated. The capital costs are very high when building and starting up a new fish farm, and investors seem to forget that growing fish to market size requires patience. The time from starting the construction and getting the first pay-back from fish sold takes typically from one to two years. Cash flow is thus slow in the beginning, and it is recommended to stock more fish into the system in the starting phase and to sell off this excess number of fish at a smaller size in the first year until the production logistics have reached the planned daily output of volumes and sizes. Another important issue is to have all costs included when estimating the total need for investment and working capital, and to have a contingency pool available for unexpected malfunctions or needs. In a recirculation system the technology and the biological functioning are inter-dependent. This means that if any of the technology solutions have not been installed or are under-dimensioned or do not work, the recirculation principle will suffer severely. In the end this will affect fish welfare and growth performance resulting in poor fish quality and lower output than planned.

In order to get a systematic overview of the whole project, a business plan should be elaborated. It is beyond the scope of this guide to go into details on how to write a business plan or how to conduct a market survey for that matter. Detailed information on such subjects must be sought elsewhere. However, a draft business plan and examples of budgets and financial calculations are given in order to guide the reader and make him aware of the challenges when setting up a fish farming project.

  1. Executive Summary:

Objective, mission and keys to success

  1. Company Summary:

Company ownership, partners

  1. Products:

Analysis of produce

  1. Market Analysis Summary:

How is the segmentation in the market?

What will be the target market?

What does the market need? Competitors?

  1. Strategy and Implementation Summary

Competitive edge

Sales strategy Sales forecast

  1. Management Summary

Personnel plan and company


  1. Financial Plan

Important assumptions Break-even analysis

Projected profit and loss

Cash flow and balance sheet

Figure 4.2 Main items of a business plan (modified from Palo Alto Software Ltd.).

An introduction for starting up a business and samples of business plans are available at resources like:

It is also important to plan in detail the production of the fish, and incorporate the plan carefully into the budgets. The production plan is the basic working document when it comes to the success or failure of the production output.

The production plan should be revised regularly as farmed fish most often perform better or worse in practice than planned in theory. Working out a production plan is basically a matter of calculating the growth of the fish stock, typically from one month to the next. Several software programs are available for calculating and planning the production. They are however all based on computation of interest using the growth rate in percent per day of the fish in question. The growth rate depends on the species of fish, the size of fish and the water temperature. Different species of fish have different optimal rearing temperatures depending on their natural habitat, and smaller fish have higher growth rates than larger fish.

The feed intake, and the feed conversion rate (FCR) of the feed, is of course an integrated part of these calculations. An easy way of approaching the production plan is to obtain a feeding table for the fish in question. Such tables are available at the feed manufacturers, and the tables take into consideration the fish species, the size of fish, and the water temperature (see figure 4.3).

Dividing the feeding rate by the FCR will give you the growth rate of the fish. The weight gain from one day to the other can hereafter be calculated using the computation of interest expressed by:

K~n~= K~0~(1+r)n

where “n” is the number of days, “K0” is the fish weight at day 0, “Kn” is the fish weight at the “n”th day, and “r” is the rate of growth. A fish of 100 grams growing at 1.2% per day will in 28 days weigh:

$K ~28~ ~days~ = K~100~ ~gram~ (1+0.012)^28^ ^days^$

= 100 (1.012)^28^ = 139.7 gram

Whatever the size or numbers of fish, this equation can be used for calculating the growth of the fish stock, making a precise production plan and incorporating when to grade and divide the fish into more tanks. Also, it should be remembered to subtract losses in the population when working out the production plan. It is advisable to calculate on a monthly basis, and to use a mortality factor of approximately 1% per month depending though on experience. A month should not be calculated as 30 full days as there will normally be days in a month where the fish are not fed due to managerial procedures, which is why 28 days is used in the example above.

Fish size (g) Pellet size (mm) 13 OC 15 OC 17 OC 19 OC 21 OC 23 OC 25 OC 27 OC 29 OC 50-100 3.0 0.60 0.89 1.04 1.19 1.39 1.44 1.34 1.19 0.99 100-200 3.0 0.50 0.80 0.99 1.09 1.19 1.24 1.14 0.99 0.80 200-800 4.5 0.45 0.70 0.85 0.94 1.04 1.04 0.94 0.85 0.70 800-1 500 4.5 0.35 0.55 0.65 0.75 0.85 0.85 0.75 0.60 0.40 1 500-3 000 6.5 0.20 0.35 0.45 0.55 0.65 0.65 0.55 0.45 0.30 3 000-5 000 9.0 0.15 0.25 0.34 0.39 0.44 0.49 0.44 0.34 0.20 5 000-10 000 9.0 0.12 0.20 0.28 0.31 0.35 0.39 0.35 0.28 0.16

Figure 4.3 Example of recommended feeding rate for different sizes of sturgeon given in percentage of fish weight at different water temperatures. Feeding should be adapted to the production strategy and rearing conditions, likewise the choice of feed type. Feeding according to the recommended level will give the best FCR thus saving feed costs and lowering excretion. Pushing the feeding rate to a higher level will enhance growth at the expense of a higher FCR. Source: BioMar.

To sum up on the budgets required in the business plan, these include:

  • Investment budget (CAPEX)

(capital expenditure, total capital costs)

  • Operational expenses budget (OPEX)

(operational expenditure, running the business)

  • Cash budget

(liquidity, business up and running)

Investment budget 100% (capital costs) Civil works: Land development, building, concrete and construction, piping, electrics, walkways 46% Recirculation system: Design and equipment, freight and installation 35% Fish tanks 12% Feed and light systems 2% Heating, chilling, ventilation 2% Fish handling incl. pipes 2% Operational equipment 1%

Figure 4.4 Example of investment budget for a fully recirculation in-house system with estimated figures in percent. The distribution cost will vary depending on type of system, fish species, and location.

It is always advised to consult a professional accountant to make thorough budgets in order to account for all expenses. A well documented budget is also necessary for convincing investors, getting a bank loan and for approaching funding institutions.

The investment budget depends strongly on the construction of the recirculation plant, which again depends on the country and local conditions in the construction area. An example of an investment budget with estimated figures in percent is shown in figure 4.4. Purchase of land is not included.

Construction costs depend not only on local building costs, but also on fish species and farm size. The costs are also highly dependent on whether the farming system shall breed all fish stages or just the grow-out phase, and if the system is to be installed inside a building or not. Such decisions depend on climate, fish species, aim of the production, etc. There is a clear tendency that the higher the rate of recirculation, the higher the need for installing the system inside a building.


Figure 4.5 Example of cost distribution of a large farm for portion sized trout (2 000 tonnes/year) taking in fingerlings and growing them to 300-500 grams. Total production cost per kilo live fish produced is less than 2 EUR per kg. The total investment cost for such a fully recirculation in-house system is around 4 EUR per kg production (total 8 mio. EUR).

Generally, total investment cost all included will reach up to 12-14 EUR per kg produced for in-house systems of 100 tons per year with all facilities such as hatchery, weaning, fry and grow-out. The larger the harvesting size of the fish farmed the higher the investment cost, because growing larger fish requires more system and tank space to produce the same tonnage when compared to smaller fish. Thus systems for producing large fish, such as market size salmon of 4-5 kg will also reach 12-14 EUR per kg produced per year. In the other end of the scale, less advance outdoor recirculation systems used only for final grow-out of smaller sized fish, such as portion sized trout, will cost around 4-5 EUR per kg produced per year when designed for 1 000 tons or more.

Regarding purchase of land, the footprint of a recirculation plant also depends on fish species and the intensity of the production. In general, the footprint of a recirculation facility is roughly about 1 000 m^2^ per 100 tonnes fish. The larger the total production the smaller the area needed per 100 tonnes produced, because the tanks are larger and can be built deeper. A large fish farm of 1 000 tonnes will thus require only 7 000 m2. More land will often be needed for surrounding works such as water intake, water discharge treatment, fish loading, roads, etc.

From figure 4.5 it is interesting to note that the consumption of energy is only 7% of the costs. Focus on the electricity consumption is of course important, however, it is by no means the dominant cost. In fact this is equivalent to many traditional farms where the use of paddle wheels, return pumps, oxygen cones and other installations use quite a substantial amount of energy.

The cost of feed is by far the most dominant cost, which also means that good management is the most important factor. Improving the FCR will have a significant impact on the efficiency of the production.

As in other food producing sectors, the larger the production unit the lower the cost of production per unit produced. The same applies to fish farming. However, it seems that making production systems much larger than 2 000 tonnes per year does not give a significant reduction in investment costs. Stepping up the way from a few hundred tonnes per year towards a thousand does though give significant reductions in costs, both with regards to investment and running costs. The benefit of going up in farm size depends greatly on which species is reared, and the way of expanding production must be carefully considered.

The appendix has a checklist of biological and technical issues that can affect the implementation of a recirculation system. This check-list is most suitable for identifying details and possible obstacles when the project is about to be realised.

Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2015, Jacob Bregnballe, A Guide to Recirculation Aquaculture, Reproduced with permission.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

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