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I was warned about links and then warned about an article reference to my website/blog in another thread (where I freely offer Tropical Fish related information). My link or reference is considered an Ad even though I don't sell anything and my website/blog isn't monetized in any way. So here is the article I referenced...

Commercial Fish Foods

June 1, 2019

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by Michael Vormwald


Like many fish keepers, I have relied on commercially prepared fish foods to feed my fish. I’ve used mostly flake foods with the occasional frozen brine shrimp or bloodworms. From time to time with new fry, I’ve hatched baby brine shrimp. (by comparison, I’ve only been culturing live foods for short time). As my previous articles have made clear, I feel that live foods are a huge benefit for our fish and perhaps our wallets. However, I feel we simply must have a staple commercial food to ensure well balanced nutrition.

Many years ago now, on an online fish forum, a member questioned the value of fish foods with the main ingredient of fish meal. I replied, “what’s wrong with fish meal?”. Then I did some research and realized that there can be a lot wrong with fish meal as not all fish meal is created equally!
Lower quality fish meal can be post processing waste – heads, skin/scales, and bones (e.g. cannery waste). Ground up, loaded with preservatives, dried, and stored in a warehouse for a long time until ordered by a fish food manufacturer. Because it’s a dried ‘protein’ fish food manufacture can require a large amount of grain/grain starch as a binder/filler. Loaded with more preservatives and again sets in a warehouse or on a store shelf until purchased. Now fish can’t process and utilize all of the grain/grain starch (carbs), so it passes through as excess waste. Some fish foods are mainly fish meal and grain and some may list grain/grain starch as the first item in the ingredient list! Back in the day, when I switched to higher quality fish foods, I noticed a significant reduction in fish waste! It also seemed that fish became more lively, with better colors.
However, not long ago I came to understand that some fish food manufacturers are using higher quality fish meal made from whole fish.
In an effort to better explore the current state of some popular commercial tropical fish foods, I contacted several manufacturers (Hikari, Tetra, Cobalt, New Life Spectrum, Ocean Nutrition, API, Aqueon). I made the following request (in the contact section of their websites):

I am a member of the Central New York Aquarium Society and have written several articles for our monthly publication, the Reflector.
I have written several articles on culturing live foods and I am currently in the process of writing an article on commercial fish foods. As a tropical fish hobbyist for over 50 years, I along with many of our serious fish keepers have long had concerns with commercial foods where the first ingredient listed is fish meal followed by copious amounts of grain/grain starch. The ‘trouble’ is two fold, 1) fish meal can be of very low quality; and 2) grain/grain starch is not processed well by fish and passes through as excess waste that pollutes the water. However, I have come to understand that not all fish meal and condensed fish protein is low quality. Perhaps you could provide a statement or information that I could use in my article as to how your company produces tropical fish food?

Your response appreciated.

What follows are the responses that I got along with typical ingredients, analysis, and cost of their tropical fish food. Please note: Product formulations and pricing may vary greatly in time and as products are modified.

From Hikari:

Michael – Thank you for taking the time to contact us. What you have come to understand is 100% correct. Unless the user has some insight to the quality of the fish meal or the processing of the other materials, they would have no insight to the actual digestibility of the product. Unfortunately, no food producer is going to share this information for competitive reasons. Hikari, for decades, has had a focus on digestibility or feed efficiency. We feel that the food and the amount the fish can actually utilize under typical fish keeping conditions is as important as how that food ultimately impacts water quality.
The Hikari Customer Service Team

Typical Ingredients: (Fancy Guppy) Fish meal, wheat flour, soybean meal, krill meal, brewers dried yeast, fish oil, dried seaweed meal, hydrolyzed vegetable sucrose polyesters, soybean oil, DL-methionine, astaxanthin, garlic, choline chloride, vitamin E supplement, L-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate (stabilized vitamin C), inositol, d-calcium pantothenate, riboflavin, vitamin A supplement, thiamine mononitrate, pyridoxine hydrochloride, niacin, folic acid, vitamin D3 supplement, biotin, ferrous sulfate, magnesium sulfate, zinc sulfate, manganese sulfate, copper sulfate, calcium iodate.* 0449D * Because of our commitment to providing the highest quality nutrition available, some differences in ingredients may occur due to regular formula updates.
Guaranteed Analysis:

  • Crude Protein – min. 50.0%
  • Crude Fat min. – 50.0%
  • Crude Fiber – max 2.0%
  • Moisture – max. 10.0%
  • Ash – max. 18.0%
  • Phosphorus – min. 1.0%
  • Vitamin A – min. 19,000 IU/kg
  • Vitamin D3 – min. 2,800 IU/kg
  • Vitamin E – min. 850 IU/kg
  • Ascorbic Acid – min. 340 mg/k

Cost: $4.53/oz.

From New Life Spectrum:
Not all fish meal is of low quality, although there are variations in quality depending on whether the meal is whole fish or post-processing waste. ‘meal’ is simply the term indicating that the material has been ground and dried.

Although we can’t speak regarding other brands, I can tell you that New Life Spectrum uses whole fish meal (menhaden fish as herring has succumbed to overfishing). Of course, this isn’t our main protein ingredients — which are whole Antarctic krill and squid. Both of these are excellent protein quality. Protein is problematic for nominal herbivore fish only if it’s of low quality, and often this means terrestrial sources like soy.

All pellets do require some starch such as wheat to bind properly. We have a low starch content, which we have reduced in each generation of formula, as we supplement binding with seaweed-based binders. To completely use seaweed-based binders or similar (such as agar-agar) is not advisable, as it actually gels too much and can result in an excessively hard pellet and/or it sets during the extrusion process. Keep in mind that a small quantity of carbohydrates are needed for fish, and so as long as the starch is not excessive, it isn’t an issue.

Ian M. Tepoot President New Life International Home of New Life Spectrum

Typical Ingredients: (NLS Optimum All Purpose Flakes) Whole Antarctic Krill, whole fish, whole wheat flour, ulva seaweed, chlorella algae, garlic, beta carotene, spirulina, scallops, omega-3 fish oil, vitamin A acetate, vitamin D, supplement, vitamin E supplement, vitamin B12 supplement, niacin, folic acid, biotin, thiamin hydrochloride, riboflavin supplement, pyridoxine hydrochloride, calcium, pantothenate, L-ascorbyl-2-polyphosphate (vitamin C), choline chloride, ethylenediamine dihydroiodide, cobalt sulphate, ferrous sulfate, manganese sulfate.
Guaranteed Analysis:

  • Crude Protein (Min): 49%
  • Crude Fat (Min): 8%
  • Crude Fiber (Max): 4%
  • Moisture (Max): 9%
  • Ash (Max): 10%
  • Vit A (Min): 8000 IU/Kg Vit D (Min) 2500 IU/Kg
  • Vit E (Min) 200 IU/Kg

Cost: $6.95/oz. From Cobalt Aquatics:

From Cobalt Support (Cobalt Aquatics) Mar 27, 10:20 AM EDT

At Cobalt, we are all hobbyists like you, most of us for our entire life. We also have many people with degrees in aquatic and/or marine biology. Most of us have worked in LFS’s, a few have worked at public aquariums, and we have even imported fish. We truly love fish and the aquarium hobby. Just like all ingredients you can buy for your pet or even for yourself at the grocery store, ingredient quality as well as formulations can vary greatly from product to product. We started Cobalt to bring back high quality and fish geek level ideals in formulation and design to products in the aquarium industry. In our foods, we choose the highest quality fish meal and other ingredients to formulations to ensure the best nutrition for your fish. We use a combination of quality salmon meal and fish oil that gives us a good protein, amino acid, and fat mix that will allow fish to thrive in the aquarium. We then use what we call accessory proteins to augment the base formula to make specialized diets for different groups of fish. Just like baking cookies at home, the flaking process requires something to hold all the ingredients together, this is where the grains come in. We use just enough flour or middlings to allow all of the ingredients to bind to to create the delivery vehicle, the flake. There is much more detail than this to the whole process than can be explained in short statement. Part of Cobalt’s program to give back and help the hobby is to come out to clubs and give talks at the monthly meetings. I talk at clubs around the country about once per month. The first talk I like to give to clubs is a primer on fish nutrition talk. I would be happy to come up and speak at your club if you would like. Also I will be speaking on April 27th on nutrition at the south jersey guppy group if you would like to send someone from your club to see the talk. I hope this helps and please reach out if you have any further questions.

Les Wilson, Co-founder Marketing

Cobalt Tropical Flake: From the website: “Formulated for all tropical fish. Nutritionally balanced for beautiful color, consistent growth and palatability. Complete with Probiotics and Cobalt BLUE Flakes that help support a healthy digestive and immune system and keep fish in top shape and color.

The scientific advancements of probiotics coupled together with a solid nutritional base, makes Cobalt flake foods the most advanced nutrition available! Will not cloud water. Less waste for a cleaner aquarium!”


  • CRUDE FAT- MIN 10%
  • MOISTURE- MAX 5.0%

Cost: $3.19/oz.
Note: I sent a follow-up email asking if the salmon meal was post processing salmon waste or whole fish. The response was that it is whole fish.

From Ocean Nutrition Americas: (Note: Ocean Nutrition Americas is a subsidiary of San Francisco Bay Brand Inc.)
At San Francisco Bay Brand, Inc. we have updated the formulations for our Ocean Nutrition Formula Foods flake foods. This process started several years ago, after we acquired Ocean Nutrition, and started taking a close look at each individual ingredient used in Ocean Nutrition products. We started by replacing artificial dyes and preservatives with natural alternatives. More recently we have been reducing the percentage of carbs and terrestrial proteins (glutens, starches, and flours used to give flakes body and bind them together) and have incorporated ingredients of aquatic origin that assist with the structural integrity.

Even though we are supplied with data sheets when purchasing ingredients, we submit our ingredients for analysis to an AFFCO approved independent lab. We compare the results we receive from the lab to the ingredient’s data sheets. As part of our standard procedure we have the lab run analysis for copper and preservatives (such as ethoxyquin), as well as many other compounds. We have been performing these independent tests since melamine was found in wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate used to make dog food. Items such as krill contain natural levels of copper, but nothing contains a natural level of ethoxyquin. If we were to claim a product had no artificial preservatives because we had not added them and did not consider the fact that an ingredient may unknowingly contain them, would be irresponsible as a producer of aquarium foods. We have always used the highest quality ingredients available in both the SFBB and Ocean Nutrition products. (Ocean Nutrition Americas continued…)

As the main source of protein and fats we use high quality fish meals and digests that contain only natural preservatives and are highly digestible by fish (less waste). Fish protein digests are produced using an enzymatic reduction which are then spray dried resulting in an ingredient with appropriate levels of protein and fat, and low levels of ash and phosphorus. Preservatives are necessary to protect ingredients such as fish meal and to prevent oxidization of fish food products.

Since we have removed artificial colors and preservatives and reduced the levels of carbs and terrestrial proteins the feedback we have received is outstanding. Breeders that have tested the flakes in their grow out tanks report noticeably less waste than before, as well as the fish not requiring as much food. Which makes a lot of sense, if the fish are able to use/digest the majority of the food item, then they should eat less and excrete less waste because the food is not simply passing though them.

Not only have the changes we made to our flake foods result in a product that is healthier for fish (highly digestible/lower carbs) and aquariums (less waste, lower phosphates, lower nitrates), but it also resulted in a flake food that is all natural and made in the USA!

Andreas Schmidt, President/CEO/Owner, San Francisco Bay Brand/Ocean Nutrition Americas

Jason Oneppo, R&D Manager, San Francisco Bay Brand/Ocean Nutrition Americas

Typical Ingredients: (Community Formula Flakes) Fish meal, dried fish protein digest, wheat gluten, salmon, wheat flour, plankton, wheat starch, lecithin, fish oil, brewer’s dried yeast, dried kelp, brine shrimp, caramel color, soy protein isolate, salmon eggs, mussels, annatto seed (added color), algae meal, cochineal (added color), marigold, paprika, choline chloride, magnesium sulfate, iron, garlic, spirulina, inositol, a-tocopherol acetate (source of vitamin E), zinc sulfate, manganese sulfate, calcium carbonate, biotin, calcium pantothenate, niacin, sodium selenite, pyridoxine hydrochloride (source of vitamin B6), riboflavin (source of vitamin B2), L-ascorbic acid (source of vitamin C), potassium iodide, vitamin A supplement, citric acid (preservative), folic acid, thiamine mononitrate (source of vitamin B1), menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of vitamin K3 activity), cobalt carbonate, vitamin B12 supplement.

Guaranteed Analysis:

  • Crude Protein (min.) — 53.0%
  • Crude Fat (min.) — 15.3%
  • Crude Fiber (max.) — 0.3%
  • Moisture (max.) — 8.0%
  • Ash (max.) — 4.0%
  • Phosphorus (min.) — 0.6%

Cost: $3.26/oz.

From Tetra (Spectrum Brands Pet LLC):
Hi Mike,
I am the brand manager for our Tetra line and your question was passed along to me. I would love to share some information on how not all fish meal is the same and how Tetras is superior. • Environmental matters are important for Tetra. That is why our fishmeal is sourced from Scandinavia to keep the transport routes short to our Melle, Germany facility. We do not source fishmeal from aquaculture due to the known environmental risks associated with it (fertilization of rivers and seas, destruction of ecosystems, threat of wildlife populations, use of medications, etc.). Our fishmeal is made from whole fish, not from fish waste or remains. Before we used our current fishmeal for production for the first time we did an external lab analysis to check for amino acid and fatty acid composition. Once this is confirmed as a balanced and appropriate mix we proceed to the next step and started an internal feeding test with different ornamental fish species in which we included the new fishmeal in the test diets. This feeding test confirms the positive results (healthy growth in all fish species during the feeding test).
Please let me know if you have any other questions, or if you would like me to go in-depth further.
Thank you,
Chris Stoll Marketing – Aquatics Spectrum Brands – Global Pet Care Division

Typical Ingredients: (TetraMin Tropical Flakes) Fish meal, dried yeast, ground brown rice, shrimp meal, dried fish protein digest, wheat gluten, feeding oatmeal, fish oil, potato protein, soybean oil, sorbitol, algae meal, dehulled soybean meal, inulin, lecithin, monocalcium phosphate, vitamins (ascorbic acid, inositol, niacin, d-calcium, pantothenate, riboflavin-5-phosphate, a-tocopherol-acetate, thiamine mononitrate, vitamin a palmitate, pyrodoxine hydrochloride, vitamin b12 suppliment, cholecalciferol), fd&c blue #2 lake, beta-caratene, fd&c yellow #5 lake, spirulina, l-ascorbyl-2polyphosphate (stabilized vitamin c), freshwater shrimp, yeast extract, minerals (manganese sulfate, zinc sulfate, ferrous sulfate), paprika oleoresin, fd&c red #3, citric acid (preservative), fd&c yellow #6 lake, biotin, rosemary extract, mixed tocopherols, (preservative), propyl gallate (preservative) menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of vitamin k activity)

Guaranteed Analysis:

  • Min. Crude Protein: 46.0%
  • Min. Crude Fat 11.0%
  • Max. Crude Fiber 3.0%
  • Max. Moisture 6.0-%
  • Min. Phosphorus 1.0%
  • Min. Ascorbic Acid (Vit C) 446 MG/KG
  • Min. Omega-3 Fatty Acids 8,000 MG/KG

Cost: $1.56/oz. _________________________________________________________________

I feel that very high quality commercial fish foods are offered by Omega One and Almost Natural as they use fish (fresh or frozen), NOT fish meal.

Omega One
Typical Ingredients: (Tropical Flakes) Salmon, Whole Herring, Wheat Flour, Whole Shrimp, Pea Protein, Kelp, Wheat Gluten, Spirulina, Garlic, Marigold Extract, Astaxanthin, Canthaxanthin, Ethoxyquin (Preservative), BHT (Preservative), BHA (Preservative), Potassium Sorbate, Natural and Artificial Colors, Ascorbyl Monophosphate (Source of Vitamin C), Niacin, Inositol, Folic Acid, Biotin, Riboflavin, Pantothenic Acid, Vitamin A Acetate, Vitamin D3 Supplement, Vitamin E Supplement, Vitamin B12 Supplement. Guaranteed Analysis:

  • Min. Crude Protein….41%
  • Min. Crude Fat………12%
  • Max. Crude Fiber…….2%
  • Max. Moisture………. 8.5%
  • Max. Ash……………..8%

Cost: $2.59/oz.

I also want to mention Almost Natural Fish Foods. I encourage readers to go to the web site and read his story and the ingredients he uses.
Ed is a tropical fish hobbyist that was not happy with the available commercial fish foods of the time so in the late 90’s and into 2k he began making his own. Friends, fellow hobbyists, and club members took notice of the health, color, and vitality of his fish and talked him into selling his foods…and his business was born. Ed buys seafood when it’s on sale at the local grocery store to use in his fish food blends – that’s right, table quality seafood! I think Almost Natural foods are great and reasonably priced although the added shipping costs put the price similar to or slightly above other high quality premium fish foods that are available.

SUMMARY: I think Omega One, Almost Natural, New Life Spectrum, Cobalt, and Ocean Nutrition appear to offer the highest quality at a premium price. Tetra Tetramin Tropical Flakes, made with whole fish meal at $1.56/oz. seems to currently offer the best value. Serious fish keepers might use these in conjunction with live and/or frozen foods. Hikari Fancy Guppy Flakes: $4.53/oz. NLS Optimum All Purpose: $3.95/oz. Cobalt Breeder Flake: $3.99/oz. Cobalt Tropical Flake: $3.19/oz. Ocean Nutrition Community: $3.26/oz. Tetra Tetramin Tropical: $1.56/0z. Omega One Tropical: $2.59/oz. Almost Natural FW Flakes $2.25/oz. + shipping


  • Read the label and decide. Price is only one variable when choosing foods for our fish.
  • Ingredients on labels are listed in order by weight. I read recently that fresh fish listed in the ingredients may be deceiving as the weight may also include the ice it’s packed in. Further, when manufactured into flakes or pellets, the actual dry weight may be far less! The article (which is no longer available online) suggested that the very best fish foods just may list whole fish meals first in the ingredient list!
  • Although I listed ingredient breakdowns for flakes, the ingredients/recipes for pellets, wafers, etc. is nearly identical, just a different manufacturing process.
  • Reality check – look at the ingredient list for most algae wafers. You might be surprised!
  • Again please note that ingredients, analysis, and costs that I’ve provided in this article are current as of this writing (April 2019) and are variable as product recipes and marketing changes over time.
  • Of course there are other commercial fish foods on the market, but it is beyond the scope of this article to attempt to mention every one.


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Copyright © 2020 – 2021 MJV Aquatics, All Rights Reserved

Edited by MJV Aquatics
remove links as requested
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Very interesting article, thanks for sharing! I made a thread comparing the New Life Spectrum foods vs Xtreme Foods. Your article is way more in depthy though.

 I found that the New Life Spectrum food was cheaper and more easily accessible outside of the US. The newlife spectrum food also had more "natural foods". I like how you mentioned that not all fish meal is healthy for our fish, I guess I always assumed it was. 

Edited by James Black
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Low quality fishmeal is made from post processing waste (heads, bone, skin), e.g. cannery waste. It's ground up, dried, loaded with preservative, and sits packaged in a warehouse until a fish food mfg. orders it. The higher quality fishmeals are made from whole fish...not table quality, but still whole fish.

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  • Administrators

@MJV AquaticsPlease remove the link in your original post as this is against to the rules to link to a competitor. I myself have purchased almost natural fish foods in the past. He seems like a nice guy, however this is not the space to link off to competitors of aquarium co-op.

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11 minutes ago, Cory said:

@MJV AquaticsPlease remove the link in your original post as this is against to the rules to link to a competitor. I myself have purchased almost natural fish foods in the past. He seems like a nice guy, however this is not the space to link off to competitors of aquarium co-op.

I went ahead and removed the links of ALL the fish food manufacturers websites. I did not think of Aquarium Co-op as a fish food manufacturer/competitor.

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Great job! I came from a racing pigeon background so feed is $$$

In the aquarium hobby we don't have the control we need to pin point want we want for that time, breeding, conditioning, growth, standby. Going from low to high protein, fat, vitamin...ect. Theirs some vitamin that will cancel each other out also. 

Filler isn't all bad, wheat have some protein, some vitamin B and other benefits..how much fish can get out of that will depend on what kind of fish species and the individual fish is lacking. 

Fish meal, whole fish ....doesn't matter to me as long as they are willing to eat it, look good, breed, and live a long life im happy with it. 


I use xtreme nano 20%,kens green 40%, and kens gold 40%

Xtreme nano and kens gold is pretty close, my fish like xtreme a bit more but they sink way too fast. My fry are raise up from kens green from 1 month old to 5 month then they get the 20/40/40 mix. Not saying kens is better it just work better for me and my results are consistent, the green have size .1mm and .2mm it helps out alot. 


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7 hours ago, WhitecloudDynasty said:

Fish meal, whole fish ....doesn't matter to me as long as they are willing to eat it, look good, breed, and live a long life im happy with it. 

There is something to be said for the simple truth that the best quality food won't matter if the fish won't eat it! On the other hand, there's missing nutritional value in low quality fish meal.

7 hours ago, WhitecloudDynasty said:

Filler isn't all bad, wheat have some protein, some vitamin B and other benefits.

The problem is that although grain/grain starch is required as binder, fish can't process grains so derive little, if any, nutrition from it - it just passes through as excess waste. I remember eons ago when I switched to higher quality foods, how the fish just began to produce less waste - and less waste means higher water quality...believe it or not. 🙂

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1 hour ago, MJV Aquatics said:

The problem is that although grain/grain starch is required as binder, fish can't process grains so derive little, if any, nutrition from it - it just passes through as excess waste. I remember eons ago when I switched to higher quality foods, how the fish just began to produce less waste - and less waste means higher water quality...believe it or not. 🙂

Yes my fish waste is at a minimum also, and since I control the amount of food going in, I have no leftover fishfood. 

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