Fish meal, or fishmeal, is a commercial product mostly made from fish that are not generally used for human consumption; a small portion is made from the bones and offal left over from processing fish used for human consumption, while the larger percentage is manufactured from wild-caught, small marine fish; either unmanaged by-catch or sometimes sustainable fish stocks. It is powder or cake obtained by drying the fish or fish trimmings, often after cooking, and then grinding it. If the fish used is a fatty fish it is first pressed to extract most of the fish oil.
Fish byproducts have been used historically to feed poultry, pigs, and other farmed fish. A primitive form of fishmeal is mentioned in The Travels of Marco Polo at the beginning of the 14th century: “they accustom their cattle, cows, sheep, camels, and horses to feed upon dried fish, which being regularly served to them, they eat without any sign of dislike.” The use of herring as an industrial raw material started as early as about 800 AD in Norway; a very primitive process of pressing the oil out of herring by means of wooden boards and stones was employed.
Prior to 1910, fish meal was primarily used as fertilizer, at least in the UK.
Fish meal is primarily used as a protein supplement in compound feed. As of 2010, about 56% of fish meal was used to feed farmed fish, about 20% was used in pig feed, about 12% in poultry feed, and about 12% in other uses, which included fertilizer.
The cost of 65% protein fishmeal has varied between around $385 to $554 per ton since 2000, which is about two to three times the price of soybean meal.
The rising demand for fish, as people in the developed world turn away from red meat and toward other sources of meat protein, has increased demand for farmed fish, with farmed fish accounting for half the fish consumed worldwide as of 2016. Demand for fish meal has increased accordingly, but harvests are regulated and supply cannot expand. This has led to a trend towards use of other ingredients such as soybean meal, cottonseed meal, leftovers from processing from corn and wheat, legumes, and algae, and an increase in research to find alternatives to fish meal and alternate strategic uses (for instance, in the growth phase, after newborn fish are established).