Lean Management in Aquaculture: A Practical Guide

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By Milthon Lujan

Lean management in aquaculture
Lean management in aquaculture

Are you tired of high costs and inefficiencies that diminish your profits? Do you feel overwhelmed by approaches to solving these problems?

USAID, WorldFish, CGIAR, and Mississippi State University have published a guide to provide you with a simple step-by-step solution to address different issues in fish production quickly and effectively.

The guide tells the story of ‘Mary,’ a small-scale catfish farmer facing various problems and implementing Lean management on her fish farm. Any resemblance to your reality is purely coincidental!

The guide will enable you to learn about the fundamental principles and tools of Lean management and how to apply them to your own aquaculture operation.

Lean Management

Lean management has been revolutionizing industries worldwide, and it is only now starting to be applied in aquaculture. This powerful approach provides tools, methods, and structures that can make your fish farm more efficient and profitable.

Lean management, simply known as ‘Lean,’ seeks to minimize waste and maximize value for customers, resulting in lower costs, improved product quality, and increased profits for the producer.

By critically examining your processes and implementing creative and low-cost solutions, you can maximize your production efficiency with minimal waste.

Perhaps the most important aspect of implementing Lean management is that it does not entail significant costs, making it accessible to any small-scale aquaculturist.

“By implementing the principles in this guide, you can improve your operations by an astounding 80 percent or more. And that’s not all: the overall increase in income could exceed 33 percent,” emphasize the authors.

Lean in Aquaculture

In the aquaculture industry, Lean management can translate into reduced water consumption, minimizing food waste, improving fish quality, and optimizing energy consumption.

According to the guide’s authors, “By fostering a culture of bottom-up problem-solving, Lean management also creates a positive work environment that is respectful, committed, accountable, and collaborative.”

The Lean Methodology

Understand your personnel’s skills

The first step in implementing the Lean approach is to understand the skills, capabilities, and potential for growth of the people working with you on the fish farm.

To do this, you should fill out a form where you write the name, job title, skills, growth opportunities, personal traits, and other relevant information.

Set your priorities

In this part, you should identify the major problems on your fish farm. Then, identify and prioritize the problems that would have the greatest impact if solved. Finally, convert the top three to four problems into objectives to be achieved.

The power of mapping

In this section, you will use the value stream mapping tool to optimize your processes and maximize your production.

By outlining the necessary steps to achieve a specific goal and identifying areas of waste and inefficiencies, you will be well on your way to improving operations on your fish farm and reducing costs.

To create a value stream map, follow these steps:

  1. Start by determining a specific process to focus on that will help you achieve your goals.
  2. Write down the significant steps needed to achieve each goal in the order they occur. There should be around 10 steps but no fewer than five or more than 15.
  3. After mapping the steps, take note of the critical measurements for each step, such as the time required to complete each step, the necessary equipment, the amount of materials used, and the number of people needed to carry it out.

Eliminating inefficiencies

For this step, the guide’s authors recommend using the Spaghetti Diagram, a powerful visual representation of your fish farm that can help you identify inefficiencies and improve operations.

“With this tool, you can capture movement, equipment, and materials to identify areas of congestion, unnecessary movement, or inefficient design,” they highlight.

Value creation

“Value is defined as any activity or process that directly contributes to delivering a product or service that meets the needs and requirements of your customers,” defines the guide.

In this sense, as an aquaculturist, it is essential to understand what your customers truly value.

Typically, fish-consuming customers want products that meet six criteria: freshness, quality, size and weight, cleanliness, price, and convenience (presentation: fillets, packaging, etc.).

Root Cause Analysis

Root cause analysis is a tool for addressing crucial problems faced by aquaculturists to improve efficiency and productivity.

By identifying the causes of a problem, the aquaculturist can take necessary measures to address the root cause and prevent the problem from recurring.

One recommended tool in the guide is the Five Whys?


The guide on Lean management in aquaculture offers a simple and effective solution to address high costs and inefficiencies in small-scale aquaculture.

“By following the roadmap provided in this guide and learning about the fundamental principles and tools of Lean management, you can also take your small-scale fish farm to the next level,” concluded the authors.

The development of the Lean Management in Aquaculture guide was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Fish.

Reference (open access):
Lawrence TK, Steensma JT, Oyebola OO, Akuwa EI, Rhea CL, Subasinghe RP, Nukpezah J and Siriwardena SN. 2023. Lean management in aquaculture: A practical guide for smallholder fish farmers. Penang, Malaysia: WorldFish. Manual: 2023-18.

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