How to Start a Fish Market Business

by Andra Picincu - Updated June 27, 2018
Lots of freshly caught fish displayed at the wet market

Starting a fish market business comes with its challenges. The laws that regulate this industry have become stricter over the past years in an attempt to stop overfishing and increase transparency. More than half of U.S. customers believe a quality seafood section is very important to them when choosing a grocery store. Therefore, you need to make sure that you offer premium products and comply with the law.

The global seafood market is expected to reach $155.32 billion over the next five years. If you're planning to launch a seafood business, now is the time to do it. Determine where you're going to supply fish from, find out what licenses you need and research your competition.

Register Your Business

First of all, choose a location and business structure. Decide whether you want to form a limited liability company, a partnership, or a corporation. Depending on where you live, you may register your business online or file paper documents in person. If you need help with this, use a registered agent service to handle these tasks on your behalf.

Visit a regional SBA office to find out how to form a business entity. Here, you can also ask what licenses and permits are required to sell seafood and fish. Since this market is monitored at local, state and federal level, you may deal with extensive paperwork.

Obtain Licenses and Permits

After forming your business, you will receive an Employer Identification Number (EIN). Next, register your company's name with the IRS. Determine whether you want to use an entity name, a DBA name or a trademarked name.

For example, if you're planning to start a small fish market business, it doesn't make sense to trademark your company name. You just need to register an entity name so the state can identify your business. These registration rules vary from one state to another, so check the local laws.

Depending on the nature of your business, you will need licenses and permits from one or more of the following organizations:

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  • U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service, for instance, grants licenses to companies that engage in commercial fishing of any kind. If you’re going to sell wild-caught fish, you will need a license from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The U.S. Department of Agriculture issues licenses and permits to companies that important or transport animals across the state line.

Also, contact your local health department to find out what certificates are needed. They will first check the business location, storage conditions, safety equipment and more.

Choose a Distributor

Next, search for a wholesale seafood and fish distributor. Unless you're a high-end niche supplier or living right on the coast, much of your product will come in frozen. Additionally, most states require that specific types of fish, such as sushi and ceviche, are sold frozen, which helps prevent bacterial contamination and ensures they are safe to eat. According to the FDA, freezing is the only practical method to eliminate the risk of parasites.

Another option is to start a fish farm. If you choose this path, take the time to learn about aquaculture. The investment will be higher, too. Furthermore, you will need additional licenses and permits. Consider working a part-time job at a local fishery to expand your knowledge in this area.

Make a Business Plan

Once you're done with business registration and licensing, focus on the details. Find a location for your business, rent a commercial space and hire staff. Ideally, set up a tiered pricing plan for the different types of clients. For example, you could offer a lower price to local chefs and restaurants.

Determine how much you can invest in your seafood business. Figure out what type of equipment you need and what safety procedures are necessary. Your storefront and kitchen should be both functional and aesthetically pleasing. Consider taking food safety courses to learn more about storing fish in proper conditions.

Your business plan also needs to include marketing activities. Focus on the local market. Publish ads in newspapers, connect with restaurant owners and attend events in your community.

Distribute flyers and marketing brochures to spread the word about your business. Set up a website and build an online presence. Join local groups on Facebook and other social networks so you can engage in conversations and promote your services.

About the Author

Andra Picincu is a digital marketing consultant with over nine years of experience. She works closely with small businesses and large organizations alike to help them grow and increase brand awareness.

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