Aquaculture Regulations

Aquaculture Regulations: A Simplified Guide for Minnesota 

Pond and two aerators

Fish hatchery in Wisconsin showing generater and two aerators in outdoor fish ponds. Image credit: Don Schreiner/MNSG. 


The following information was collected and summarized by MNSG fisheries and aquaculture extension staff in February 2024. Contact Don Schreiner.

This guide serves as an introduction to the planning and regulatory processes for operating an aquaculture business in Minnesota. The guide is not a substitute for further research and communication with relevant agencies such as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MNDNR), Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA), Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), and other state, federal and local units of government. 

Regulation and oversight of the aquaculture industry are vital for the protection of the environment and to ensure the public views aquaculture as an acceptable industry that does not harm our natural resources. Aquaculture has the potential to intersect with natural resource management activities such as fish stocking and habitat restoration and can affect local economies. Consequently, aquaculture has a robust regulatory structure. 

This guide focuses on the three primary forms of aquaculture in Minnesota: 

  1. Producing bait
  2. Raising fish for stocking
  3. Raising fish for food. 

A good initial contact for aquaculture is the MNDNR Area Fisheries Office that is responsible for managing the fishery resources in the area where the aquaculture facility will be located. 

Potential producers should also become acquainted with the Regional Fisheries Offices as these contacts may become important as planning continues. 

For all aquaculture questions, contact MNDNR fisheries program consultant, Sean Sisler by email at or phone at 651-259-5213. 

It is important to remember that legislation, rules, fees, permits, and other requirements are subject to change and it is the responsibility of the operator to stay current with any changes. 

Overview of Aquaculture in Minnesota 

The state of Minnesota Department of Agriculture defines aquaculture as privately raising fish or other aquatic life for consumption or sale. Aquaculture is considered agriculture, with farmed fish viewed as livestock. A private hatchery (also called an aquatic farm) is a licensed facility for hatching and rearing private aquatic life for sale and may include ponds, vats, tanks, raceways, and other indoor or outdoor facilities that an aquatic farmer owns or has the right to use. 

Legislation and Regulation 

  1. Minnesota Statute 17.4981, general conditions for regulation of aquatic farms, provides the legislative framework for aquaculture in Minnesota. 
  2. Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the MNDNR are the primary agencies associated with aquaculture in the state with MDA responsible for development assistance and MNDNR charged with regulatory authority. However, some regulations and permits may fall under the purview of other local, state, and federal agencies e.g. the MPCA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and/or local government units (city council, county, etc.). 


Table 1. 

A summary of licenses, permits and forms required for aquaculture facilities in Minnesota are found below. The fees associated with these licenses can be found on the website link in the table. Note that a private fish hatchery and an aquatic farm are two different terms that mean the same thing.

License or permit typeDescriptionDuration
New aquaculture facility or pond applicationThis is the starting point for the initial inspection of all licensed facilities including public water wetlands and any additional ponds or facilities to be added to an aquaculture license.One time

Private fish hatchery license (sales greater than $200)

Private fish hatchery license (sales less than $200)

This base license (one of two options) is required for any aquaculture production in Minnesota. This license is granted after a facilities and/or wetlands inspection. The private fish hatchery license is equivalent to the aquatic farm license.Annual
Pond acreage feeThe pond acreage fee is in addition to the aquatic farm license. It includes all waters listed on the aquatic farm license and includes both artificial (excavated ponds, raceways, and tanks) and natural waters of the state. Total acreage is rounded up to the nearest 10 acre increment.Annual
Water appropriation permitThis is required for water appropriations that exceed 10,00 gallons per day or 1 million gallons per year.Annual


Once an initial private hatchery (aquatic farm) license has been approved and purchased, operators may choose to acquire endorsements to their license. Endorsements are a way to consolidate all licenses into one for the convenience of the licensee. 

Table 2. 

Private hatchery licenses with minnow endorsements are shown below. Fees associated with these endorsements can be found at the website linked in the table. Each endorsement needs to be renewed on an annual basis with the main aquaculture license.

Endorsement typeDescription
Minnow dealer licenseA minnow dealer license allows for the taking, possessing, buying, and selling of minnows from public waters that can be legally accessed. Leeches are defined as minnows. A minnow dealer can sell minnows at one retail outlet under their minnow dealer license, but must obtain a minnow retailer license for each additional retail outlet where minnows are sold at retail. *Note: Minnow dealers may have a standalone minnow dealer license without a private hatchery license and in this case, the dealer is allowed up to three basins, each less than one acre, in which to cultivate minnows. See Table 3 for information about harvesting minnows in infested waters.
Exporting minnow dealer licenseA minnow dealer must obtain an exporting minnow dealer license to transport minnows (taken under their minnow dealer license) out of the state.
Minnow retailerA minnow retailer license allows for the retail sale of minnows (including leeches) as bait at one business location. An additional minnow retailer license must be purchased for each additional retail location.
Minnow dealer vehicle licenses

There are three types of vehicle licenses required for transport of minnows including:

  1. Minnow retailer vehicle licenses
  2. Minnow dealer vehicle licenses
  3. Exporting minnow dealer vehicle licenses

A vehicle(s) may require one or more of these licenses. Vehicles should be licensed in a manner that corresponds to licensed activities. For example, a minnow dealer’s vehicle license is required if you have a minnow dealers license and wish to haul minnows

Table 3. 

Other private hatchery license endorsements are listed below. Refer to the website linked in the table for specific fees.

Endorsement typeDescription
Fish packer licenseThis license only applies to people processing food fish at their facility for transport.
License to Take Sucker Egg from Public WatersThis endorsement (available only to holders of a private fish hatchery license) allows sucker eggs to be taken from public waters. Licensees will be supervised by fisheries field staff while taking eggs.

Table 4. 

Other important applications and permits for aquaculture are found below. Fees associated with these items can be found at the website linked in the table. 

Fish health inspectionThis includes requirements for fish samples to be submitted for virus or other health testing. Contact Isaiah Tolo, MNDNR Fish Health Supervisor at for fish health inspection questions. See fish health inspection section below for more details.Varies
Aquatic invasive species (AIS) trainingA minnow dealer or a person working under a minnow dealer license (unless you only sell minnows at a retail location), is required by law to annually complete this course prior to taking, selling, or transporting minnows for sale within the state. This training is free.Annual
Permit for harvesting Minnows in infested waters (if applicable)Permits are available for minnow harvest in waters designated as infested. A list of prohibited invasive species is available online. A minnow dealer license is required for this permit and training is required (free).Annual - permit must be received before March 1 in each year.

Live fish transportation, importation and stocking permit

Permit application

This permit is required for moving and/or stocking fish in Minnesota (both in state and out of state) for any reason. This permit is free.30 Days
Aquatic plant managementPermits for aquatic plant management and nuisance control of algae, snails, and leeches are available upon application. Fees vary depending on the type of control needed.Depends on Activity
Wastewater permitsMPCA water quality permits establish specific limits and requirements to protect Minnesota's surface and groundwater quality.Depends on Activity

Reporting Forms 

As part of the exporting minnow dealer license renewal, a completed, signed annual report of minnows exported (obtained from the licensing center) must be submitted. This report must be submitted even if no production or sales occurred during the licensing period. 

Fish health and inspection certification is required:

  1. Annually for a salmonid or catfish facility that discharges effluent into public waters. 
  2. If a Live Fish Transportation, Importation and Stocking Permit is approved for Salmonids or Catfish. 
  3. To transfer any species on the VHSV species list from public waters or a licensed facility to another licensed facility. 
  4. To stock VHSV susceptible species into waters of the state. 

Minnesota fish health labs 

There are two labs in Minnesota that can perform a fish health inspection and test for a variety of fish diseases: 

The MNDNR pathology laboratory
Contact: Isaiah Tolo at
Tel. 651-259-5096
500 Lafayette Rd, Box 25, St Paul, MN 55155-4025.

The University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory
Tel. 612-625-8787 or 800-605-8787
1333 Gortner Avenue, St. Paul, MN, 55108-1098 


General questions about aquaculture and aquaculture licensing, contact Sean Sisler; MNDNR Commercial Aquatic Programs and Fish Health Consultant at or 651-259-5213. 

To request game fish eggs, fry, or brood stock, contact Paula Phelps; MNDNR Fish Production Supervisor at or 651-259-5068. 

To request a fish health inspection or for questions about fish health and disease, contact Isaiah Tolo; MNDNR Fish Health Supervisor at or 651-259-5096.