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November | December 2014

Algae in ornamental fish feeding

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The International magazine for the aquaculture feed industry



in ornamental
fish feeding

by Dr Aleksandra Kwasniak-Placheta, Tropical, Opolska str 25, 41-507

Chorzow, Poland and Prof. Dr Leszek Moscicki, Lublin University of Life
Sciences, Doswiadczalna str. 44, 20-280 Lublin, Poland

he development of aquafeed production is followed by the growing

interest in raw materials which are
to be interesting, attractive and
valuable, not only in terms of their properties. There is no doubt that algae are one of
them. Feeds with the addition of algae are
perceived as premium products. This can
result from the fact that algae evoke certain
associations with healthy food for humans.
Animal food with algae must then trigger
the same positive associations. Moreover,
specially processed algae or feeds with the
addition of algae offered by the producers
allowed for keeping popular algae-eating
freshwater and marine fish.

Algae used in the production of

aquafeed for ornamental fish

It is virtually impossible to provide ornamental fish with algae from their natural environment so aquafeed manufacturers use cultivated algae or algae taken from the wild on
an industrial scale. The most popular microalga used for aquafeed production is spirulina
(Arthrospira platensis). Its content in aquafeed
usually ranges from several to even tens of
percent. Its properties are well known among
aquarium fish keepers when compared with
other species such as Chlorella, Scenedesmus,
Laminaria, Ascophyllum, Undaria, Ulva etc.
Super Spirulina Forte, Tropicals food with
36 per cent share of Arthrospira platensis, has
been one of the best-selling fish foods on the
market for many years. The changing ornamental fish market and new emerging species
of fish and invertebrates made it necessary
for us to develop and introduce new foods.
Thus the offer of products for herbivorous
and algae-eating fish has been enriched with
a new food based on three species of algae:
Chlorella vulgaris, Ascophyllum nodosum and
Laminaria digitata, the last two referred to
as kelp algae. It is available as flakes, granules
(Fig. 1), adhesive and sinking tablets. It is

intended for everyday feeding of herbivorous

freshwater and marine fish, for which algae is
a valuable dietary component, and as a supplementary food for omnivorous species.

Algae as a source of protein

In farm fish feeding algae are mostly used

as an alternative source of protein. In case of
aquarium fish they are so much more than
the source of protein. They provide other
valuable ingredients such as unsaturated fatty
acids, carotenoids and dietary fibre, which
offer benefits such as health, good overall
condition, resistance to diseases and colouration improvement. Algae share in aquafeed
can be high as a great number of freshwater
and marine fish kept in popular aquaria eat
algae in the wild. Alga is a difficult dietary
Table 1: Average content of protein in
algae used for the production of feeds for
ornamental fish

Average protein
content [% d.m.]

Arthrospira platensis


Chlorella vulgaris


Laminaria digitata


Ascophyllum nodosum


Table 2: Chemical analysis of popular species

of kelp algae used for ornamental fish


nodosum [%



5.0 12.0



0.5 2.0



50.0 65.0

Dietary fibre


Algin acid

22.0 30.6


11.4 11.8



2.3 5.9




component to be substituted without risk to

fishs health. Despite the fact
that various species of algae differ
in the content of protein and its composition, it seems that they generally contain
all amino acids necessary for fish (Dawczyski
et al., 2007). This makes algae an even more
valuable component of fish foods compared
with other plant materials used as the source
of protein.
The nutritional value of protein is determined by two main factors: the quantity
of essential amino acids in a given protein
together with their relative proportions, and
digestibility of the protein the extent to
which amino acids are released and absorbed
during digestive processes taking place in the
gastrointestinal tract. It is the content of digestive protein that informs us about the quality
of a given raw material. Why is the nutritional
value of protein so important? To fully exploit
the genetic potential of fish of all ages, especially farm-raised. Only an adequate content
of highly nutritional protein can ensure proper
growth in fish and enables their reproduction.
Using poor quality animal protein or replacing
animal protein with plant protein such as soya
makes it necessary to enrich the feeds with
synthetic amino acids, first of all with cysteine,
methionine and lysine.
It should be noted, however, that our
knowledge on the ornamental fishs demand
for essential amino acids is really poor. Dietary
research carried out on farm-raised fish
proved that the demand for essential amino
acids can vary from one species to another.
Hence, for the purpose of ornamental fish
feeding it seems important to use high quality
protein which provides all essential amino
acids. This way one can fulfil dietary needs
of a large number of species kept in aquaria
(see tab. 1).

Arthrospira platensis

14 | INTERNATIONAL AQUAFEED | November-December 2014

Organisms belonging to Arthrospira genus

can be found in numerous environments. They have been identified in
fresh, salty and brackish waters as well as
in soil, sand and even in hot springs. Due
to the specific conditions of water bodies
from which spirulina are collected, it has also
become a dietary component of people living
in the vicinity of Lake Chad and Texcoco.
Green mats collected and then dried contained almost exclusively cells of Arthrospira
platensis or Arthrospira maxima. The formation of these monocultures has been strictly
correlated with chemical parameters of water
(high salinity and pH level about 10 pH).
These are perfect conditions for the development of spirulina and inhibition of other bluegreen algae, which can be dangerous to health
and life of humans and animals.
In the beginning the main reason why spirulina gained such interest was its exceptionally
high content of protein, which ranged from
62 to 68 per cent. This is an impressive value
when compared to meat (15-25 per cent) or
soya (35 per cent). Moreover, protein from
spirulina turned out to be more valuable than
protein from plants, even legumes and only
slightly worse than milk or egg protein.
Further tests conducted on spirulina continued to reveal an even greater number of
outstanding qualities. It turned out that these
tiny, twisted cells are rich in assimilation pigments such as chlorophyll, carotenoids, and

phycobiliproteins. Spirulina is a leading source

of chlorophyll (1.7 per cent DW) (Chronakis
et al., 2000). The bacteriostatic properties of
this green pigment and its favourable effects
on the human body have been used in cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.
Spirulina contains about 0.5 per cent of
carotenoids (DW), mostly beta-carotene and
xanthophylls. The carotenoids are an essential component of fish food, not only for their
colour-enhancing properties. Carotenoids
play a number of other important roles in
fishs bodies. They stimulate immune system,
protect valuable cell components (such as
nucleic and fatty acids) from the harmful
activity of free radicals, some are the source
of Vitamin A, which is beneficial for fishs
growth, they promote maturation and reproduction, and finally protect skin and eggs
from UV radiation.
Spirulina also contains other beneficial pigments such as phycobilins. These include blue
phycocyanobilin, allophycocyanobilin, and red
phycoerythrin. Similar to carotenoids, they
are antioxidants. They effectively protect fatty
acids and other valuable substances against
free radicals.
Apart from these pigments, spirulina contains other active substances such as aminoacids, nucleic acids and linoleic acid Its content
of iron, magnesium, calcium, copper, phosphorus, and selenium is also significantly high.

Chlorella vulgaris

Unicellular algae belonging to green algae

(Chlorophyta). The most popular species is
Chlorella vulgaris, which can be found in fresh
waters and moist habitats. Similar to spirulina,
Chlorella firstly owed its popularity to the high
content of protein, which could be used for
human and livestock consumption. Chlorella
may contain from 45 to 57 per cent of protein
rich in essential amino acids (DW). Moreover,
chlorella contains large amounts of provitamin
A (just like spirulina), folic acid and iron (Tang
and Suter, 2011).
Chlorella is also said to have health-promoting properties owed to natural immune
stimulator beta-1.3-glucan and high concentration of chlorophyll present in its cells. Adding
beta-1.3-glucan (responsible for the activation of macrophages) to fish foods increases
fishs natural specific and non-specific immune
response (Yaakob et al., 2014). The concentration of chlorophyll in chlorella cells reaches
in average about 2 per cent of dry weight,
however one may achieve higher concentration of this green pigment by adjusting growing conditions. Chlorophyll facilitates digestion,
reduces the number of decay bacteria in the
gastrointestinal tract, acts as an antioxidant,
helps to detoxicate and when used externally
as a bath it supports treating injuries and skin
infections (as aquarists claim). Apart from
that, it facilitates the regeneration of cells and

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November-December 2014 | INTERNATIONAL AQUAFEED | 15

organs caused by overfeeding or poorly balanced feeds for ornamental fish.

Kelp algae

increases the concentration level of haemoglobin in the blood (Yaakob et al., 2014).
Chlorella vulgaris, similarly to spirulina, is
a very rich source of carotenoids. In its dry
weight one will find about 0.4 per cent of
these pigments, 80 per cent of them in red
shades (Gupta et al., 2007). The concentration of carotenoids in chlorella cells can
be increased by a strict control of growing
conditions. Chlorella is effectively used for the
coloration enhancement in koi and goldfish
(Gouveia et al., 2003; Gouveia and Rema,
The role of carotenoids in fishs bodies is
complex and the demand for these pigments
is ongoing. Fish cannot synthesise carotenoids
de novo, hence one must provide them in
food. Colourful species of ornamental fish are
particularly demanding. The minimum carotenoid level in fishs diet ranges from species
to species. Coloration improvement in tetras,
cichlids, gourami, goldfish and danio has been
observed when 30 mg of astaxanthin has
been added to one kilo of formulated feed
In clownfish (Amphriprion ocellaris, Premnas
biaculeatus) coloration enhancement has
been visible after a week of providing food
with 100 mg/kg astaxanthin. At the same time
growth acceleration has been noted (Lorenz
and Cysewski, 2000).
Chlorella added to feed for Plecoglossus
altivelis reduced the excessive accumulation
of fat in tissues. The fats were better utilised,
which is probably the result of chlorella affecting the hormone system (lipolytic hormones
stimulation) (Gholam et al., 1987). Similar
conclusions were reached by Tartiel et al.
(2008), who fed Nile tilapia (Oreochromis
niloticus) with chlorella. The content of chlorella (not exceeding 50 per cent) accelerated
the growth in tilapia, reduced fat in tissues
and increased the concentration of protein.
These properties of chlorella seem particularly
important in case of aquarium fish, who often
suffer from fatty degeneration of internal

Kelp algae are a mixture of

seaweed belonging to greenblue algae, which are rich
in minerals, including easily assimilable organic iodine
compounds, vitamins, dietary
fibre and pigments such as fucoxanthin and chlorophyll. Their addition to
the food facilitates digestion and enhances
overall condition of fish. Dietary fibre in seaweed may even reach 33 up to 50 per cent of
dry weight. Its far more than in higher plants.
Table 2 presents chemical analysis of
popular kelp algae used for aquafeed.
There are two types of dietary fibre in the
seaweed: insoluble (cellulose, mannan, xylan)
and soluble such as alginic acid, fucoidin and
laminarin. Dietary fibre performs many physiological functions, for instance it increases intestinal transit time, facilitates the development
of valuable intestinal microbial flora, binds
bacterial toxins and heavy metal ions. This
group of polysaccharides added to aquafeed
allows for better food utilization and growth.
It also supports detoxication. Even a small
addition of Ascophyllum nodosum (5 per
cent) improves nutritional value of the food
(Yone et al., 1986). However, it should be
noted that too high polysaccharide concentration in the diet can deteriorate assimilability
of the nutrients. Numerous research proved
anti-bacterial and antiviral properties of algin
acid, fucoidin and laminarin and their positive
effect on immunity (Kraan, 2012).
Macroalgae contain an average of 1-3 per
cent of fat, which is relatively small in comparison to microalgae, which can contain even up
to 40 per cent. Despite its small amount, the
fat from macroalgae is very valuable thanks to
Omega-3 acids. The demand for Omega-3
and Omega-6 fatty acids is partly fulfilled by
the fish themselves, as they can produce it
from HUFAs provided in the food. However,
the ability of carnivorous and marine fish
to transform HUFAs into Omega-3 and
Omega-6 is relatively small, hence one must
supplement them additionally with formulated
fatty acids.
Seaweed is rich in vitamins A, B1, B2,
B3, B9, C and E, macronutrients and trace
elements (iodine, iron, potassium, magnesium, calcium, selenium and phosphorus), most of which is in the
form of easily assimilable
organic compounds.
Laminaria digitata contains
on average
about 4 g
of iodine

DW. This form of iodine is highly stable. A

small L. digitata addition of 0,8 per cent (providing 32 mg iodine/kg of food) into the fish
food is enough for the concentration of iodine
in fishs tissues to increase 4 times (Schmid et
al., 2003).
Similarly to chlorella, Laminaria digitata
facilitated using fat as a source of energy,
when added to the diet of Spondyliosoma
cantharus and Seriola quinqueradiata, which
indicates that one of the seaweed components affects fat metabolism (Nakagawa et
al., 1997).

Conclusive remarks

In feeding of ornamental fish microalgae

are first of all the sources of easily digestible
protein, vitamins, unsaturated fatty acids and
natural pigments. Numerous research indicate
that the best results are reached when microalgae are added to food, rather than used
separately (Sommer et al., 1990). Macroalgae
provide primarily macronutrients, trace elements and dietary fibre.
The beneficial effect on the ornamental
fish is the result of the combined action of all
the ingredients. Alga is not just another interesting and eagerly eaten by the fish ingredient
of formulated feeds. Most of all, it is an effective agent to improve fishs condition. Regular
using of feeds with algae ensures intense and
bright colours and protects delicate, herbivorous species against digestive disorders.


16 | INTERNATIONAL AQUAFEED | November-December 2014

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