An ichthyologist is a zoologist specializing in the study of fish. Ichthyology or fish research offers a very rewarding lifestyle and most people involved in this field love their work.

The daily routine of the ichthyologist is very varied, involving field study, laboratory work, reading research literature, writing up research results and lecturing. Researchers usually work fairly independently, setting their own goals, and the personal reward of making new discoveries about fish and their role in the environment is immense.

Most ichthyological work is physically demanding and involves the collection of fish. In certain fields, such as taxonomy and fisheries sciences, the amount of time spent in the field is relatively small and the work is usually performed in a team with others. This makes it possible for disabled persons to enter these fields of work and make a contribution.

Within the field of ichthyology there are a number of focus areas:

  • Aquaculture: the study or practice of fish farming and management
  • Fisheries science: the study and management of harvesting fish for human consumption
  • Conservation: the conservation of natural fish populations
Opportunities in fish research, because of the specialised nature of this field of study, tend to be limited to the universities and museums. Only the most highly motivated and productive researchers are successful. For this reason, many honours and masters graduates move into related or even totally different fields.

Fish farming (aquaculture) is a rapidly growing industry. At present, trout, catfish, tropical fish, oysters and mussels are farmed commercially in South Africa and most enterprises are small businesses run by the owner or a manager.

A BSc degree in Ichthyology would also qualify a person to work or study further in the following related fields: teaching, environmental education and aquatic environmental management.

Personal Requirements

  • love of nature and sufficient interest in fish to want to follow a career in this field
  • able to work independently
  • capacity for independent and original thought
  • practical aptitude, to use equipment and perform experiments
  • entrepreneurial skills to develop a successful aquaculture business

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects
Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Sciences
Recommended Subjects: Life Sciences (Biology)

National Senior Certificate meeting the minimum requirements for a degree course. Note that each institution has its own entry requirements.

What to Study

Degree: BSc majoring in Zoology, all universities.

Postgraduate study: Honours degree in Ichthyology, Fisheries Science or Aquaculture - Rhodes

Further study: MSc or PhD is required to secure research positions. However, many honours and masters graduates use their qualifications to enter aquaculture and fishing industries.


  • universities
  • museums
  • Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism
  • Sea Fisheries Research Institute
  • CSIR
  • Oceanographic Research Institute
  • private fish farmers
  • fish harvesting companies
  • self-employment, as a private consultant on ichthyological, conservation and management issues, also can start own fish farm

Further Information

The Department of Ichthyology and Fisheries Science
Rhodes University
P O Box 94
Grahamstown, 6140
Tel: (046) 603-8415/6 

SA Association for Marine Biological Research
1 King Shaka Avenue
Tel: (031) 328-8222

Getting Started

  • broaden your knowledge by visiting pet shops that sell fish
  • make an appointment to speak to an ichthyologist about this type of career

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

A day in the life of an Ichthyologist

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