Skip to main content

Hooked on nutrition: Why quality fish feed matters

April 21, 2019

Proper feed selection can play a large role in fish health and performance.

Over the last three decades, aquaculture has become the world’s fastest-growing food sector. During this time, farmers have faced a number of unique challenges but have adopted new technologies to address them. One issue, however, remains a key concern and a continually developing threat: disease. There have been significant advances in vaccination practices over the years, but the diversity of pathogens — bacterial, viral and parasitic — sometimes makes vaccination impractical or unavailable to protect against certain threats.

Building a defense

Pathogens are opportunistic and exist naturally in all environments, including animal populations. When conditions become suboptimal and/or stressful, the natural defenses of the animal are challenged and pathogens are given the chance to flourish, which often leads to disease, poor performance and mortality. Disease does not occur in isolation; rather, it is the result of multiple factors. Diet is just as important for the nutrition and welfare of aquaculture species as it is for humans. The Mediterranean diet, for instance, is recommended to help prevent disease in humans because it includes a rich variety of essential nutrients, such as omega-3 lipids, minerals, vitamins and proteins. These nutrients have also proven to be essential for supporting the health and welfare of livestock and often help producers achieve operational success. As such, Alltech has begun exploring what benefits these nutrients could provide in its advanced nutritional aquaculture solutions.

Minerals presented in their natural, organic form help ensure optimal tissue reserves. When encountering a stressful situation, animals draw on these reserves to prevent cellular damage. The maintenance of a healthy gut helps ensure optimal nutrient uptake, leading to improved growth and performance. A healthy gut and mucosal barrier can also keep pathogens from passing through the damaged areas of the gut and into the bloodstream, thus improving the animal’s natural immune defenses.

Feed selection and management

As feed costs can account for more than 50 percent of farm production costs, the correct choice of feed should not be underestimated, nor should it be limited to the application of modern nutritional engineering. Feeds must also be tailored to each species and/or hybrid and should be appropriate for the specific culture methodology and environment; when feeds do not meet these standards, they are often not the most cost-effective selection for the farmer.

When selecting feed, fish farmers should pay attention to three key characteristics: structure, size and stability. Visually, the structure of the pellet should be firm and robust. A strong pellet must withstand the manufacturing and transportation process, minimizing the amount of dust produced. Dust is extremely harmful to fish, as it can damage their gills and affect the water quality. The size, ratio and sink/float speed of the feed must also be suitable for different species and environments; for example, fish in RAS facilities and fish in ponds will have very different requirements.

Pellets must also have a high water stability, as uneaten feed can contaminate the water and leach nutrients. Following best practices, uneaten pellets must be removed promptly in order to avoid sub-optimal feeding practices, negative environmental impacts and an increased feed conversion rate.   

The mechanical filter in an RAS facility will remove large and firm feces. However, providing a feed that is not suitable for this environment can result in the production of excess waste, reduced nutrient uptake and poor water quality.

Profitability relies on optimized feed conversion ratios. Fish are sensitive to external factors; fluctuating water temperatures, water quality and oxygen levels can impact growth and performance.

Tailored nutritional solutions

Alltech Coppens, a leading developer and producer of fish feeds, performs digestibility trials on feed formulations to understand how raw materials interact with each other and affect certain characteristics. Once the ideal ingredient selection is chosen and combined with Alltech’s nutritional solutions, a diet is formulated and developed specifically for that species and its farming environment.

Alltech’s aquaculture solutions platform has been proven to help maintain a protective balance between the aquaculture species, nutrition and environment. In addition, Alltech’s Mineral, Gut Health and Mycotoxin Management programs provide holistic management practices for addressing the key challenges outlined above. For more information about implementing these programs in your operation, please reach out to us at


I want to learn more about aquaculture nutrition and management.