Over 80% of European aquaculture finfish production originates from breeding programs

Published on
June 17, 2015

The level of sophistication and scale of breeding companies in European aquaculture are highly variable across different species. Among improvements in many different traits, selective breeding has resulted in an up to threefold increase in growth performance. With over 80% of the finfish production originating from breeding companies, selective breeding has a major impact on European aquaculture.

Diversity in scale and sophistication

For the EU project Fishboost, a survey was conducted among breeding companies of the six major aquaculture species: Atlantic salmon, rainbow trout, European seabass, gilthead seabream, turbot and common carp. The results revealed large differences between breeding companies of the different species. Often highly specialised breeding companies of salmon operate on an international market, while most breeding programs for seabass, seabream and turbot are part of integrated companies that control the entire process from reproduction to harvest. For trout breeding both types of companies coexist. Also within species much variation exists among breeding companies: the largest produce 10-50 times as many eggs or juveniles as the smallest. Diversity in sophistication is illustrated by the type of selection performed. All salmon breeding companies perform advanced family selection, selecting on a diverse set of traits and including genetic information of relatives in their selection criteria. This type of selection is also applied in the other species, although generally less advanced. Alternatively, mass selection is performed, by which only genetic information of the selection candidate itself is used. Companies that perform mass selection generally select on growth performance, sometimes together with a few other traits such as morphology. Much of the variation can be explained by the different roles breeding companies play in production.

Most breeding companies improve the growth performance of fish. In salmon and trout this has resulted in a threefold increase in growth performance of currently produced fish compared to wild fish. Other commonly selected traits are related to disease resistance, meat quality and morphology.

Selected generations

Carp has the longest history of domestication, with some strains being bred for over a century. However limited genetic improvement has been accomplished over this time period, mainly due to the emphasis on crossbreeding rather than selective breeding. The first selective breeding programs for trout were established in the early 1950’s and since then over 20 generations of selection have been performed. The first family selection breeding programs for salmon and trout were developed in the early 1970’s, and about 10 and 14 generations of selection have been performed since then for both species respectively. The species that are mainly produced in Southern Europe (turbot, European seabass and gilthead seabream) have a shorter history of selective breeding. Seabass has been selected for up to 8 generations and seabream and turbot have been selected for up to 5 generations.

Market shares

Based on per species egg and juvenile production statistics, the market share of breeding companies in European production was estimated. The market shares of breeding companies of the different species are as follows:


These six species account for >95% of the European finfish production. From these data it can be estimated that, based on volumes of fish production, over 80% of total European aquaculture finfish production originates from breeding programs.