The aquaculture and aquaculture feed sectors are highly diverse. Aquaculture production can be categorized as either unfed or fed. The unfed sector is largely comprised of molluscs and aquatic plants which are reliant on the natural availability of nutrients in aquatic ecosystems. The output of the unfed sector has decreased from approximately 44% of total production in 2000 to 30% in 2018. Comparatively, the growth of the fed sector has outpaced that of the unfed sector, currently amounting to 57 million tonnes of production (FAO, 2020).

Feed may include industrially compounded aquafeeds, farm-made (supplementary) feeds or natural food organisms including forage/trash fish and natural/cultivated invertebrates. Compounded feeds generally represent the largest feed usage for commercial aquaculture operations.

The top compound feed fed fish and crustacean species include carp, tilapia, catfish, shrimp, marine fish species, salmon, freshwater crustaceans, milkfish, trout, and eels (Tacon, 2019).

In 2019, aquaculture feed production experienced a growth of 4%, reaching 41 million tonnes. The most growth occurred in the Asia-Pacific region which produced an additional 1.5 million tonnes over the previous year. The primary contributors to this growth were China, Vietnam and Bangladesh (Alltech, 2020). Table 1 shows aquaculture feed production by geographical region in 2019.

Aquaculture feeds are characterized by their variable composition and high cost. Generally, aquaculture feeds are formulated to high protein (> 25%) and lipid (> 6%) levels with high-quality ingredients also utilized in other agricultural animal industries. Such ingredients include grains, oilseed meals, grain processing by-products, land animal proteins, fish meal, fish oil, etc. Prototypical rainbow trout and tilapia feeds are presented in Tables 2 and 3, respectively.

The variability in composition of aquafeeds is due to both the wide variety of species cultured as well as the diversity in production systems. Moreover, the formulation of feeds varies according to life stage and other factors such as farmers’ or feed manufacturers’ preferences and environmental constraints or regulations.

Many aquafeed manufacturers provide feed to a diverse client base culturing fish and crustaceans in different production systems (e.g. ponds vs. cages, marine vs. freshwater environment) and socio-economical contexts (i.e. small farms vs. large vertically integrated corporations).

Formulated aquaculture feeds generally represent 50 to 60% of total production costs; therefore, improving cost-effectiveness of feeds is essential to reducing the overall production costs in much of the aquaculture sector.

Aquaculture feeds generally need to be manufactured to very high standards in terms of physical characteristics. Most feeds are manufactured by steam-pelleting or extrusion. The tolerance for over- or under-sized pellets is very low; thus, high quality control measures are maintained in the aquafeed industry. In many markets, feeds containing even more than 1% fines are considered to be unacceptable to aquaculture producers due to adverse effects on water quality and animal performance. The physical quality of the feed is almost as important as the nutritional value in aquaculture feed manufacturing. This emphasis on physical characteristics of the feeds adds to the cost of the feed. Aquaculture feed manufacturing plants are often amongst the most modern facilities in the entire animal feed milling sector (Bureau, 2010).
Table 1. Compound aquaculture feed production by region in 2019 (Alltech, 2020).

Region Feed Production
Africa 0.6
Asia-Pacific 30.0
Europe 3.8
Latin America 4.2
Middle East 0.5
North America 1.7
Oceania 0.2
Total 41.0
Table 2. Prototypical rainbow trout feed.

Ingredient Inclusion (%)
Fish meal 20
Land animal proteins (poultry by-products meal, feather meal, etc.) 16
Grain and milling by-products (corn gluten meal, DDGS, etc.) 12
Oilseed meal (soybean meal, canola meal, sunflower meal, etc.) 11
Grains (wheat, etc.) 11
Vitamins, amino acids, minerals, additives 3
Marine fish oils 8
Plant oils, animal fats, lecithin, etc. 15
Table 3. Prototypical tilapia feed.

Ingredient Inclusion (%)
Grains & tubers (corn, wheat, cassava, rice) and milling by-products (bran, etc.) 38
Soybean meal and other oilseed meals 35
Processed animal proteins (poultry meal, feather meal, meat & bone meal, etc.) 12
Fish meal and other fisheries by-products 5
Brewer’s yeast and other “functional” ingredients 5
Plant oil and lecithins 2
Fish oil 1
Minerals, vitamins, amino acids, additives 2

  • Tacon, A.G.J., 2019. Trends in Global Aquaculture and Aquafeed Production: 2000-2017. Reviews in Fisheries Science & Aquaculture. https://doi.org/10.1080/23308249.2019.1649634

  • FAO, 2020. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture: Sustainability in Action. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 224 pages.

  • Alltech, 2020. Alltech Global Feed Survey. 7 pages.

  • Bureau, D.P., 2010. Aquaculture Nutrition – Working Towards Better Economical and Environmental Sustainability. In: World Nutrition Forum, the Future of Animal Nutrition. October 13-16, 2010, Salzburg, Austria.