Gilthead seabream

Sparus aurata

Sparus aurata (Gilthead seabream)
Distribution map: Sparus aurata (Gilthead seabream)

least concern


Authors: Maria Filipa Castanheira, Jenny Volstorf
Version: 2.0 (2022-01-22)

Reviewer: Pablo Arechavala-Lopez
Editor: Billo Heinzpeter Studer

Cite as: »Castanheira, Maria Filipa, and Jenny Volstorf. 2022. Sparus aurata (Farm: Short Profile). In: FishEthoBase, ed. Fish Ethology and Welfare Group. World Wide Web electronic publication. First published 2016-10-26. Version 2.0.«


Sparus aurata
Home range
Depth range

Condensed assessment of the species' likelihood and potential for good fish welfare in aquaculture, based on ethological findings for 10 crucial criteria.

Li = Likelihood that the individuals of the species experience good welfare under minimal farming conditions
Po = Potential of the individuals of the species to experience good welfare under high-standard farming conditions
Ce = Certainty of our findings in Likelihood and Potential

FishEthoScore = Sum of criteria scoring "High" (max. 10)


No findings

General remarks

The very low FishEthoScore of Sparus aurata is mainly due to the home range needs, high levels of aggression, needs of substrate, stress under farming conditions, high levels of deformations, absence of humane slaughter protocol and dependence on fish in the diet. Extensive farming providing substrate could be a remediation for some of the problems and help improve fish welfare. Individual farming strategies with mandatory protocols including continuous monitoring are a major stepping stone towards preventing poor welfare and improving the sustainable production of this species. Further research is needed on current farming conditions as well as aggregation and aggression behaviour in the wild and in farms.

1  Home range

Many species traverse in a limited horizontal space (even if just for a certain period of time per year); the home range may be described as a species' understanding of its environment (i.e., its cognitive map) for the most important resources it needs access to. What is the probability of providing the species' whole home range in captivity?

It is low for minimal farming conditions. It is high for high-standard farming conditions. Our conclusion is based on a high amount of evidence.


Eggs and larvae: Pelagic 1: Inhabit the water column, independent of bottom and shore. Hatchery: Usually 3-6 m in diameter 2.

Juveniles: Usually >800 m 3 4 5 6 7. Round tanks: 3-6 m in diameter 8; raceways and ponds: 5-10 x 1-2 m 8; cages: 20 x 35 m 9.

Adults: In spawning season in the wild, usually >800 m  3 4 6 7. Tanks: Usually 16 x 16 m 2.


2  Depth range

Given the availability of resources (food, shelter) or the need to avoid predators, species spend their time within a certain depth range. What is the probability of providing the species' whole depth range in captivity?

It is low for minimal farming conditions. It is medium for high-standard farming conditions. Our conclusion is based on a medium amount of evidence.


Eggs and larvae: no data found yet on depth range in the wild. Hatchery: Usually 1.5-2 m 2.

Juveniles, adults: Usually 0-15 m 10 11 12 13 14 15 7 16 17 18, up to 30 m 19. Tanks and raceways: Usually 1-1.5 m 8. Cages: 14.6 m 9.

Adults: no data found yet on depth range during spawning season in the wild. Tanks: ≤1.5 m 20.  


3  Migration

Some species undergo seasonal changes of environments for different purposes (feeding, spawning, etc.) and with them, environmental parameters (photoperiod, temperature, salinity) may change, too. What is the probability of providing farming conditions that are compatible with the migrating or habitat-changing behaviour of the species?

It is low for minimal and high-standard farming conditions. Our conclusion is based on a high amount of evidence.


Eggs and larvae: Stationary 1 20 8

Juveniles: Migrate between open sea and coastal lagoons 21 22 16 with more resources and better environmental conditions.

Adults: Migrate towards the open sea to spawn 22 23 16.


4  Reproduction

A species reproduces at a certain age, season, and sex ratio and possibly involving courtship rituals. What is the probability of the species reproducing naturally in captivity without manipulation?

There are unclear findings for minimal and high-standard farming conditions. Our conclusion is based on a low amount of evidence.


Adults: In the wild, spawning from October to February 24 25 26 1 12 27. Tanks: Temperature and PHOTOPERIOD manipulation to adjust reproduction time 20 8. Further research needed to identify possible long-term effects on welfare.

5  Aggregation

Species differ in the way they co-exist with conspecifics or other species from being solitary to aggregating unstructured, casually roaming in shoals or closely coordinating in schools of varying densities. What is the probability of providing farming conditions that are compatible with the aggregation behaviour of the species?

There are unclear findings for minimal farming conditions. It is medium for high-standard farming conditions. Our conclusion is based on a medium amount of evidence.


Eggs and larvae: no data found yet on natural aggregation behaviour and farming conditions. 

Juveniles: live in shoals 6 14 28. Further research needed to determine natural aggregation behaviour. Grow-out ponds: Shoals of 600 individuals of 500 g each use better the available space, 250 and 400 m2, than alone or in groups of 4 29. Extensive rearing: 0.0025 kg/m3; semi-intensive rearing: 1 kg/m3; intensive rearing: In tanks 15-45 kg/m3, in cages 10-15 kg/m3 1.

Adults: live in small groups 6 14 28. Further research needed to determine natural aggregation behaviour. Tanks: 15 kg/m20.  

6  Aggression

There is a range of adverse reactions in species, spanning from being relatively indifferent towards others to defending valuable resources (e.g., food, territory, mates) to actively attacking opponents. What is the probability of the species being non-aggressive and non-territorial in captivity?

There are unclear findings for minimal farming conditions. It is low for high-standard farming conditions. Our conclusion is based on a medium amount of evidence.


Eggs and larvae: Tanks: Aggressive 30 20 31. Manipulation of biotic (e.g. growth dispersion) and abiotic (e.g. temperature) parameters can reduce aggression 30 20 31.

Juveniles: In the lab, aggressive in pairwise interactions 32 33; food competition in groups of 4 34 and 2, 5 or 10 35.

Juveniles, adults: In cages, food competition at stocking density 3 kg/m3 due to feeding rhythms and captive overcrowding 36.

Adults: In the lab, aggressive during sexual reversal period 37.

7  Substrate

Depending on where in the water column the species lives, it differs in interacting with or relying on various substrates for feeding or covering purposes (e.g., plants, rocks and stones, sand and mud). What is the probability of providing the species' substrate and shelter needs in captivity?

There are unclear findings for minimal farming conditions. It is medium for high-standard farming conditions. Our conclusion is based on a low amount of evidence.


Eggs and larvae: Pelagic 1 20: Independent of bottom substrate. 

Juveniles, adults: In the wild, usually found on rocky or sandy bottoms or seagrass beds 1 10 38. In the lab, preferred habitats with shelter over those without 39. Under farming conditions, the use of substrate enhanced growth, fillet quality and supressed aggression 40 41. Further research needed.

Adults: no data found yet on natural substrate and shelter needs within the spawning season as well as the effect of missing environmental enrichment in farming conditions.

8  Stress

Farming involves subjecting the species to diverse procedures (e.g., handling, air exposure, short-term confinement, short-term crowding, transport), sudden parameter changes or repeated disturbances (e.g., husbandry, size-grading). What is the probability of the species not being stressed?

It is low for minimal and high-standard farming conditions. Our conclusion is based on a medium amount of evidence.


Larvae: Stressed by air exposure 42, salinity shock 42 and handling 43 44.

Juveniles: Stressed by air exposure 45, confinement 45 46, crowding 47 48 49, handling 46 and noise 50.

Adults: Stressed by crowding 49 51.

9  Malformations

Deformities that – in contrast to diseases – are commonly irreversible may indicate sub-optimal rearing conditions (e.g., mechanical stress during hatching and rearing, environmental factors unless mentioned in crit. 3, aquatic pollutants, nutritional deficiencies) or a general incompatibility of the species with being farmed. What is the probability of the species being malformed rarely?

There are unclear findings for minimal farming conditions. It is low for high-standard farming conditions. Our conclusion is based on a high amount of evidence.


Larvae: Under farming conditions, malformations of swimbladder 52, operculum 53 and spine 52 54 55 in >10% of individuals.

Juveniles: Under farming conditions, malformations of lateral line 56 57, operculum 53 58 59 and spine 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 in >10% of individuals.

Adults: Under farming conditions, malformations of spine 60 67 66 in >4% of individuals.

For all age classes, no data found yet on frequency of malformations in the wild.


10  Slaughter

The cornerstone for a humane treatment is that slaughter a) immediately follows stunning (i.e., while the individual is unconscious), b) happens according to a clear and reproducible set of instructions verified under farming conditions, and c) avoids pain, suffering, and distress. What is the probability of the species being slaughtered according to a humane slaughter protocol?

It is low for minimal farming conditions. It is medium for high-standard farming conditions. Our conclusion is based on a medium amount of evidence.


Common slaughter method: immersion in ice-water 2. High-standard slaughter method: a protocol for electrical stunning and killing by bleeding is under development 68. Further research needed to confirm for farming conditions. Percussive stunning and killing by bleeding 69.

Side note: Domestication

Teletchea and Fontaine introduced 5 domestication levels illustrating how far species are from having their life cycle closed in captivity without wild input, how long they have been reared in captivity, and whether breeding programmes are in place. What is the species’ domestication level?

DOMESTICATION LEVEL 5 70 71, fully domesticated. Cultured since 1980 1.

Side note: Forage fish in the feed

450-1,000 milliard wild-caught fishes end up being processed into fish meal and fish oil each year which contributes to overfishing and represents enormous suffering. There is a broad range of feeding types within species reared in captivity. To what degree may fish meal and fish oil based on forage fish be replaced by non-forage fishery components (e.g., poultry blood meal) or sustainable sources (e.g., soybean cake)?

Larvae: Carnivorous 1 20 8. NO DATA FOUND YET on replacement of fish meal and fish oil.

Juveniles: Carnivorous 1 21 72 11. Fish meal and fish oil may be mostly* replaced by plant protein 73 74 75 76.

Adults: Carnivorous 1 72 11 7. Fish meal and fish oil may be mostly* replaced by plant protein 77.

* partly = <51% – mostly = 51-99% – completely = 100%



DOMESTICATION LEVEL 5 = selective breeding programmes are used focusing on specific goals 70
PHOTOPERIOD = duration of daylight


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