Scientific Review Discusses Practices and Challenges in Gilt-Head Sea Bream Aquaculture

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By Milthon Lujan

A reconstruction of gilthead seabream life cycle. Source: Mhalhel et al., (2023), J. Mr. Sci. Eng.
A reconstruction of gilthead seabream life cycle. Source: Mhalhel et al., (2023), J. Mr. Sci. Eng.

Gilt-head sea bream (Sparus aurata) is one of the leading marine fish species sustaining Mediterranean aquaculture. Accumulation of knowledge over the past decades regarding its functional and biological characteristics has improved aquacultural aspects of the species.

However, despite remarkable progress in the gilt-head sea bream aquaculture industry, hatchery management conditions are still far from ideal, resulting in a challenge to initiate intensive cultivation.


A team of researchers from the University of Messina published a scientific review examining and elucidating intricate facets related to the life cycle of gilt-head sea bream, growth dynamics, aquaculture methodologies, and concurrent challenges.

Developmental Stages of Gilt-Head Sea Bream

The study outlines the general life cycle of gilt-head sea bream, emphasizing embryonic development, hatching, larval stages, fingerlings, and fattening. The study also highlights the hermaphroditism observed in gilt-head sea bream.

During the first two years, gilt-head sea bream mature as functional males and later transition to females when they reach a length of over 30 cm.

The study further underscores the ectothermic nature of gilt-head sea bream, with water temperature significantly influencing their physiology and growth rate.

Nutritional Requirements


The nutritional requirements of S. aurata are influenced by various factors, including fish size, protein source, non-protein energy quota, and dietary lipid levels.

One study reports that a combination of 51% protein with 16% lipids, corresponding to an energy content of 22.2 kJ/g of feed, represents the most cost-effective diet for 2.1 g fingerlings.

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Regarding vitamins, one study suggests that increasing vitamin E levels, associated with highly unsaturated fatty acids, enhances growth in terms of total larval length.

However, concerning mineral requirements, the study authors highlight that they are not well understood, with few studies conducted in this regard.

Cultivation Practices


The document provides insights into the early days of gilt-head sea bream cultivation based on wild juveniles, and subsequently, in the 1980s, large-scale fingerling production began in hatcheries.

The study describes all the practices involved in gilt-head sea bream larval production in hatcheries, including feeding regimes for larvae, fingerlings, and juveniles.

Challenges in Gilt-Head Sea Bream Aquaculture

According to the study, over the past 20 years, the gilt-head sea bream aquaculture industry has seen rapid development with impressive advances in breeding methods, disease management, nutrition, and knowledge of industrial hatcheries.

However, challenges still persist and must be overcome, such as morphological abnormalities during embryonic development, which affect 80% of fingerling production.


On a sanitary basis, scientists report that Viral Nervous Necrosis (VNN), also known as Viral Encephalopathy and Retinopathy (VER), is the most pressing concern in Mediterranean aquaculture and has succeeded in terms of pathogenicity through infectious bacterial and parasitic diseases.

To address the health-related issues in gilt-head sea bream, selective breeding programs are being promoted to enhance growth, morphology, and genetic resistance to pathogens.


The scientific review provides information about gilt-head sea bream aquaculture, including its life cycle, growth characteristics, and genetic dynamics, with the aim of gaining a deep understanding of the species’ ecological and physiological requirements.

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“This review also highlighted the challenges faced by gilt-head sea bream aquaculturists. Indeed, although the accumulation of knowledge about the functional and biological characteristics of gilt-head sea bream has significantly improved aquacultural aspects, such as reproductive success and survival, hatchery conditions are still far from ideal, resulting in frequent challenges that entail significant economic losses,” conclude the researchers.


The study was funded by the INNOVITICA Project of the Regional Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, and Mediterranean Fisheries of the Sicily Region, Italy.

Reference (Open Access)
Mhalhel, K.; Levanti, M.; Abbate, F.; Laurà, R.; Guerrera, M.C.; Aragona, M.; Porcino, C.; Briglia, M.; Germanà, A.; Montalbano, G. Review on Gilthead Seabream (Sparus aurata) Aquaculture: Life Cycle, Growth, Aquaculture Practices and Challenges. J. Mar. Sci. Eng. 2023, 11, 2008. https://doi.org/10.3390/jmse11102008

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