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2. Low value/trash fish in the Asia-Pacific region

2.1. Sources and production trends

While noting the widely divergent definitions of low value/trash fish across the region and the lack of sound statistics, recent estimates of low value/trash fish production obtained through our reviews are tabulated below (Table 4).

Table 4: Estimations of low value/trash fish production in Asia-Pacific (tonnes)


Low value/trash fish

% of total catch

Dominant gear

Year of estimation



71 000


Gill nets (48%)
Non-mechanised set bags (42%)


Uddin et al, 2004


5 316 000




Han and Xu, 2004


271 000




Jayaraman, 2004


78 000


Trawl (41%)
Danish seine (22%)
Purse seine (12%)


Ramiscal and Chiuco, 2004


765 000


Trawl (95%)


Kaewnern and Wangvoralak, 2004

Viet Nam

933 183




Edwards et al, 2004

These countries account for over half of the marine capture fish production in the Asia-Pacific region. A weighted average of low value/trash fish across the six countries is 35 percent of the total marine catch. Noting that varying amounts are used for livestock/fish feed in the different countries (100 percent in China and Thailand, by definition, and little in India and Bangladesh), a conservative estimate for the amount of fish used for livestock/fish food in Asia would be in the order of 25 percent of the capture fisheries production. In a separate study, Malaysia estimates its catch of trash fish (i.e. fish not used for human consumption) in 2003 as 32 percent of the total marine capture landings (DOF, 2003).

Using the statistics provided by FAO for capture and aquaculture production in the region, a very approximate "back of the envelope" calculation to trace the flow of fish products through (i) direct human use and (ii) indirect human use through aquaculture can be developed (Figure 4). For 2003, the recorded Asian capture fishery landings was about 39.3 million tonnes (for all carnivorous and omnivorous fish and excluding molluscs and seaweeds) and the latest estimate for discarding is 1.8 percent (i.e. 720 000 tonnes), giving a total capture figure of 40.0 million tonnes. Applying the 25 percent factor to the landed catch gives a figure of 9.8 million tonnes being used for livestock/fish, and 29.5 million tonnes being used for total human consumption. The total aquaculture from Asia for all fish excluding molluscs and seaweeds is also estimated as 28.0 million tonnes. From these figures (summarised in Figure 4) it is clear that the diversion of marine fish via aquaculture is providing a very significant proportion (approximately 50 percent) of the total fish provided to humans (both within Asia and exported to other more developed countries). An increasing proportion of this is high-valued carnivorous species which is increasingly dependent on imported fish meal/oil.

At the local level, prices of low value/trash fish vary depending on species, seasons and abundance of other fish and fishery products. Prices also fluctuate with the demand for fish meal in the livestock and aquaculture industry and the availability of raw materials for fish meal production. At the low end, fresh low value/trash fish has been known to fetch as little as $0.04 per kg (e.g. Thailand), while its price can be as high as $1.50 per kg (e.g. India). Prices for low value/trash fish at landing places in Bangladesh range from $0.08 to $0.15 per kg. Fish meal producing industries, however, buy low value/trash fish at higher prices ($0.25 to $0.35 per kg), depending on the protein concentrations of the low value/trash fish. Because fish traders bring low value/trash fish to the factory to sell, the price includes transportation costs as well as remunerations for fish traders.

Figure 4: Production flows by major categories of fish in Asia-Pacific (amounts expressed in million tonnes)


A total of 15 identified fish species and some unidentified species constituted low value/trash fish in 2001/2002. Main low value/trash fish species are sharks (28 percent), rays (15 percent), and crabs (12 percent). The rest are shrimps, kukurjib, cuttlefish and olua. The unidentified species include shrimp species, crustaceans, invertebrates and juveniles of different migratory species. It should be noted that although sharks are shown as trash, they are also targeted by gill nets for their fins, and only their flesh is used as low value/trash fish (although in some artisanal fishing communities it is dried for human consumption). Similarly, ray skin is expensive, but the flesh is trash.

The majority of low value/trash fish (48 percent of total low value/trash fish landing) comes from gill net fisheries, followed by set bag net fisheries with non-mechanised boats (42 percent). About 16 percent of total landings from trawling is low value/trash fish.


Hundreds of species of marine fish in Chinese waters can be considered as low value/trash fish. Most of them are pelagic fish and many are small, bony, oily fish that cannot be directly used for human consumption, such as Japanese anchovy, Japanese pilchard, Pacific herring and sandlance. Some fish species are caught when they are still juveniles, for instance, chub mackerel, filefish, jack and horse mackerel, and Japanese Spanish mackerel. These fish do not attract high market values, and most are, therefore, destined to feed mills. It appears that a lot of these fish are caught in large pair trawls.

Demersal species are also an important part of the low value/trash fish in coastal China. In a recent study on low/value trash fish in two ports in China, it was estimated that low value/trash fish amounted to over 60 percent of the catch from otter trawlers, rising to as much as 90 percent of the total catch in May (Grainger et al, 2005).

Before the 1980s, the price of low value/trash fish in China was less than $0.12 per kg. With the consideration of some pelagic fish species as low value/trash fish, prices have gone up slightly, but are still lower than $0.20 per kg. The price of Japanese anchovy, for example, has been increasing from $0.07 per kg in the early 1990s to the current price of about $0.15 per kg. Because of the use of low value/trash fish in fish meal production, low value/trash fish prices are influenced by the imported fish meal prices. It is predicted that the price of low value/trash fish will continue to rise in the next few years due mainly to the overexploitation of low value/trash fish and other marine resources. Demand for low value/trash fish as major raw materials for fish meal and fish oil production, as well as for direct feeding, will also increase with the expansion of aquaculture. Finally, consumer demand for low value/trash fish will increase as people (particularly those in the low or middle income classes) gradually accept the less expensive fish products that are made from low value/trash fish. In all likelihood, the declining catch and increasing market demand will drive up the prices.

One of the biggest global markets for fish meal is China, where it is used in protein concentrates for livestock and in aquaculture feeds. With 35 to 44 percent protein content, feed producers or farmers mix it with cereals and other nutrients to produce finished feed. The amount of pork and poultry feed is of the order of 18 million tonnes. The use of fish meal in these feeds runs from 4 to 10 percent, although some of these products are occasionally free of fish meal. Using an average of four percent, this translates into an input of 720 000 tonnes of fish meal for livestock feeds. The domestic fishmeal production increased fourfold from 100 000 tonnes in 1992 to 400 000 tonnes in 2002, with peak production of 755 000 tonnes in 1999, due largely to the rapid development of aquaculture. Current demand far exceeds this supply and China is increasingly reliant on imports.


Marine fish species like silverbellies, flatfish, ribbon fish, sciaenids, carangids and catfish constitute low value/trash fish in India. Generally big sized catfish, wallago attau and Mystus seenghala are consumed readily, but small size fish are considered low value/trash fish. However, such low value/trash fish find ready consumer acceptance in West Bengal and, for example, small size catfish like Heteropneustus fossilis are ranked under "choice fish".

In India, prices of low value/trash fish species have not been stable for many reasons. During glut seasons, many species earn a low price and thus fall into the low value/trash fish category. The price of low value/trash fish is likely to go up owing to the ever-widening gap between the demand and supply. Prices also vary according to species. Prices for silverbellies and stomatopods are as low as $0.06 to $0.15 per kg. Others, such as rays, eels, clupeids, sciaenids, ribbon fishes, flat fishes and crabs, fetch higher prices ($0.20 to $1.50 per kg), depending on their quality and sizes.


Marine low value/trash fish are grouped into two categories: the commercially known fish that are too small for the fresh fish market and the non-commercially known species both in adult and juvenile forms. The commercial low value/trash fish group from demersal fisheries consists of fish in the following groups: slipmouths, lizardfishes, goatfishes, mullets, mojarras, flatfishes and glassfishes. Non-commercial fish groups consist of cardinal fish, puffer fish, trigger fish, trumpet fish, fl ying gurnards, goby fish and filefish.

Landings of low value/trash fish in the Philippines result mainly from the use of demersal gears. About 41 percent of total low value/trash fish landings are caught by trawls, 22 percent by modified Danish seine, 12 percent by beach seine, and 4 percent by push net. Modified Danish seine operate similarly to trawls and thus result in relatively high percentages of low value/trash fish. Beach seine and push nets are operated in shallow waters and, due to their poor selectivity, they catch many juvenile fish and other species.

The retail price of fresh low value/trash fish of small-sized commercially important species in the Philippines is about $0.70 - 0.90 per kg. Low value/trash fish sold directly to fish farms get lower prices ($0.05 - 0.27 per kg). Prices for sun-dried low value/trash fish vary from as low as $0.05 - 0.09 per kg to as high as $1.42 - 1.78 per kg, depending on species, size and market location. The higher priced fish, for example, are sold at Metro Manila, whereas the lower priced fish are found near the landing sites.


During 1995 - 1999, low value/trash fish production of trawl fisheries was composed of at least 35 species, 9 of them were small species and the other 26 species were juveniles of high value fish (9 pelagic species and 17 demersal species). Other aquatic species such as cuttlefish, shrimp, krill and crab were also taken. There were 14 species of low value/trash fish from push net fisheries, i.e. 3 species of small fish and 11 species of juveniles of high value fish (5 pelagic species and 6 demersal species).

In terms of landing by gears in Thailand, about 95 percent of total low value/trash fish landing comes from trawl fisheries, and about 45 percent of trawl landings is low value/trash fish. Otter board trawls contribute about 75 percent of total low value/trash fish, followed by pair trawls (19 percent). The other demersal fishing gear that catches some low value/trash fish is the push net (about 1.4 percent). In addition to trawls and push nets, purse seines contribute about 3 percent to the total landing of low value/trash fish.

Ex-vessel prices of low value/trash fish in Thailand vary slightly from $0.04 - 0.07 per kg depending on the season. High prices for low value/trash fish are generally obtained during January to May, and during August and September. This is probably due to low value/trash fish production during the dry season and during periods of strong monsoonal winds. It is likely that the price of low value/trash fish will continue to grow given the high demand from the fish meal industry and expanding cage-fish culture operations.

In the Gulf of Thailand, the proportion of low value/trash fish in the fishery statistics has steadily increased and has reached about 60 percent of the total catch (FAO, 2001). A significant part of this low value/trash fish is made up of juveniles of commercially important species that could produce a more valuable catch if the juveniles were given time to grow to adulthood. The total catch of the demersal fisheries in the Gulf of Thailand in 1997 was about 1.4 million tonnes, which was composed of 800 000 tonnes of food fish (for human consumption) and 600 000 tonnes of low value/trash fish (used for fish meal and oil).

Foreign trading of low value/trash fish in Thailand can be related to the production of fish meal. In the past, more than 50 percent of domestic fish meal was exported to other Asian "countries/provinces", especially Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan Province of China. However, due to the increase in the domestic livestock industry, changing policy towards livestock production in Singapore and availability of exporters such as Chile and Peru on the world market, the export amount of fish meal decreased sharply from 73 000 tonnes in 1987 to only about 1 670 tonnes in 1994. Recent government data indicates that the volume of fish meal exported from Thailand has since been increasing. In 1997, the total amount of exported fish meal increased from 1 240 tonnes ($0.57 million) to 19 000 tonnes ($10.8 million) in 2002. Besides export, some fish meal is also imported to support the animal feed industry in Thailand, especially chickens where a significant proportion is exported. Data indicates that total amounts of imported fish meal were high over several years. In 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2001, the total amount of imported fish meal, and value, for each year was higher than 64 000 tonnes ($31.1 million).

Viet Nam

There are conflicting data on the volume of low value/trash fish landed. The inshore fishery in Viet Nam is heavily overfished but the total fish catch, as well as the proportion of biomass of trash in the total catch, continue to rise (Edwards et al, 2004). There has been a dramatic rise in the use of low value/trash fish in aquaculture with a probable doubling of its price, indicating a finite supply.

The Vietnamese Ministry of Fisheries estimated production of 200 000 tonnes of low value/trash fish from a total catch of 1.4 million tonnes in 2002, or 14 percent of the total. This represents "real" low value/trash fish, not including another 200 000 tonnes of more valuable small species such as leatherjacket and pony fish, formerly considered as low value/trash fish. Another 20 percent of the catch would be small individuals of fish such as grouper which would be a valuable species if large, leading to a sum of about 50 percent for low value/trash fish in the broadest sense of the term in the total catch.

There are over 100 species of marine low value/trash fish that are used as an aquaculture feed or aquaculture feed ingredient in Viet Nam. Fish comprise the greatest share, but low value/trash fish also includes small molluscs, crustaceans and echinoids. The composition of low value/trash fish also varies depending on the type of gear used to fish, but most is from trawling, hence one of the common names in Vietnamese for low value/trash fish, "trawling fish". Composition also varies by area or region. The major low value/trash fish species by area are anchovy in the central and southwest, lizard fish in the north, central and southeast and pony fish in the central and southwest. The relative abundance of low value/trash fish is also highly seasonal. Low value/trash fish comprises mainly demersal species, but pelagics may be used when fish landings exceed local marketing or fish processing capacity. Spoiled higher value species may also be used as low value/trash fish.

In Viet Nam there is intense competition for fish for direct human consumption, fish sauce manufacture and direct feeding to fish. The current price of low value/trash fish is rather high for fish meal production because of such competition, estimated to be around $0.06 - 0.19 per kg. Prices for anchovy to feed grouper and lobster can be as high as $0.19 - 0.38 per kg. If the price of low value/trash fish continues to increase, even existing fish meal plants may not be financially viable.

Low value/trash fish used to comprise only 30 - 40 percent of the catch from trawling, but has risen to 50 - 60 percent, and even up to 80 percent in the southwest region according to provincial records. Furthermore, fishing boats need to fish at increasing distances and for longer periods of time. An interesting finding, however, is that overfishing has seemingly reduced the grazing pressure on low value/trash fish by larger predatory fish, leading to a growth in the low value/trash fish biomass.

2.2. Uses

Low value/trash fish (using our broader definition) are important food sources for poor people in various community groups living along the coastal areas. Small-scale fisher folk generally keep low value/trash fish for home consumption, after selling other fish with high market demand. Some of the low value/trash fish are consumed fresh, some are dried. Drying is a general practice used to preserve fish to avoid spoilage and for easy distribution. Bangladesh reports, however, some health concerns about drying due to the use of chemicals and pesticides to cure the products. Consumption of dried fish has also been a long tradition in the Philippines and Thailand. The proportion of low value/trash fish for human consumption can be quite high, e.g. in Bangladesh about 60 000 tonnes of the total 71 000 tonnes of low value/trash fish landed are consumed either directly or as dried forms. In China, low value/trash fish have traditionally been used as a main ingredient to supplement the daily diet with protein (FAO, 2002c). A significant factor that determines how low value/trash fish are used is the location of the landings and the available infrastructure to deal with these landings.

Many countries report that some low value/trash fish are used as direct feeds for livestock and aquaculture. In China, both fresh and frozen low value/trash fish are used directly to feed cultured animals, such as shrimp, crab or fish species in small farms, especially when formulated feed are not available or prices are too high. The Philippines and Thailand use low value/trash fish as direct feeds for grouper and mud crab culture to enhance growth. In the Philippines, some portions are also given to tilapia, prawn and milkfish in grow-out ponds as supplement feeds by pond owners.

In Asia, utilisation of low value/trash fish for fish meal production varies between countries. The extent of fish meal production and use is sometimes difficult to estimate, and often the most reliable estimation method is to back calculate from aquaculture production statistics (Edwards et al, 2004). Large-scale manufacturing of fish meal using low value/trash fish as raw materials is prominent in Thailand and the Philippines. A small-scale and household production is found in Bangladesh, where the poultry sector dominates utilisation of fish meal. Currently, there are 35 established poultry feed producing plants, producing about half of the poultry feed used in the country. The other half comes from smaller scale, household level producers located around the country. The production has declined in India owing to the increased emphasis on export of high quality fish and fishery products. China, on the other hand, is developing this new industry to respond to the growing demand from aquaculture and poultry sectors. The importance of fish meal in animal feed production is given further attention in Section 3.2.

There is no report on direct use of low value/trash fish for fertilisers both in agriculture and aquaculture. However, decomposed uneaten low value/trash fish used as direct feeds may accelerate natural food bloom in the pond. Use of low value/trash fish for fish oil is reported in India and Bangladesh. It is likely that some cheap fish oil, e.g. from sardines, is produced to use as raw material in shrimp feed production.

In Bangladesh, fish oil is produced at the household level, using crude methods of boiling the guts/parts of mainly shark and hilsha. In Thailand and the Philippines, assorted low value/trash fish species (defined here as low-value species) are used as raw materials for fish sauce production, together with other pelagic fishes, like roundscad, sardines and anchovy. An estimate from the Philippines suggests that about 25 tonnes of low value/trash fish is used in a small fish sauce processing plant for 6 - 7 months of the fermentation process.

Table 5 outlines some of the most common uses of low value/trash fish in the Asia-Pacific region. There has been considerable innovation in recent years in an attempt to utilise previously unwanted bycatch, especially from shrimp trawl fisheries and from finfish trawlers. Many of these activities have been the result of bycatch utilisation programmes supported by governments, research, or development agencies, while some have been driven primarily by the market.

Table 5: Examples of low value/trash fish use in the Asia-Pacific region


Human consumption

Direct animal feed

Fish meal

Fish oil



Direct consumption, often dried

No record

Poultry feed

Sporadic production for fish feed



Innovation in new products (e.g. fish meat filling), dietary protein supplement

Poultry, livestock, shrimp, crab and fish

Relatively new, but production has increased dramatically due to aquaculture demand

No record

Some use as fertiliser to enrich primary production in ponds


Increasing consumption levels, fresh or dried

Some used for fish and poultry

Poultry feed, production declining due to increase in direct consumption

Shrimp feed production



Consumed directly, fresh or dried (as much as 50 percent of low value/trash fish)

Aqua farms (e.g. crab, grouper)

Demand as poultry and animal feed

No record

Fish sauce


Some low value/trash fish are processed (e.g. dried) for human consumption

Chicken, duck and pig feed. Aquaculture (e.g. crab, grouper)

Dominant use of low value/trash fish (as much as 90 percent), especially poultry feed. Recent decrease due to use of surimi processing waste

No record

Fish sauce

Viet Nam

Direct human food (e.g. sun dried)

Livestock (pigs) and coastal aquaculture feed

Fish powder, artisanal and industrial processing, mainly for pigs and poultry feed. Increasing demand due to aquaculture

Mostly imported

Fish sauce

Uptake of value-added products from bycatch has been successful in the region, particularly with the introduction of surimi technologies. In this regard, further product development will likely play an important role in bridging the gap between fish supply and demand in many developing countries. FAO (2003) draws on a forthcoming FAO technical paper Utilisation and marketing of fisheries bycatch products: Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand that examines the bycatch landings in the region, in terms of species composition, volume, and the handling and processing of bycatch based products. Marketing channels, production costs, profit margins and consumption of a range of products (e.g. fish meal, fish crackers, fish balls, fish sauce, dried fish and surimi) are also considered. This information will help shed light on the economic implications of utilising bycatch and low value/trash fish at various levels in the production chain in different Asia-Pacific countries.

The levels of poverty in many countries, in addition to rising population levels and increasing pressure on target species, suggest that markets for bycatch are increasing, thereby helping to make discard reduction in the form of bycatch utilisation increasingly economically feasible (FAO, 2003). Shrimp trawlers are also interested in developing bycatch markets due to falling profitability from shrimp trawl operations, and seasonal fluctuations in shrimp catches that allow for retention of finfish at certain times without any impact on storage capabilities of shrimp. In Asia-Pacific (especially Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines and Myanmar), many species have been found to have suitable gelling properties for the production of surimi products. Other developed products, or in the process of being developed, include fish mince, fish noodles, fish flakes, fish pickle, fish satay and fish jelly.

China, however, leads other countries in advancement of the processing technology to fully utilise low value/trash fish by transforming them into various food products that are gaining public acceptance. Fish meat filling products are the most important food products that use low value/trash fish as raw and processed materials. Fish meat filling is a kind of low fat and digestible complete protein, used as a key ingredient in products such as fish steak, fish balls and fish cakes. Processed products from low value/trash fish are considered good animal protein. As they are well processed with no fish smell, they play an important role in supplemental nutrition for children (e.g. protein hydrolysates and fish protein concentrates).

In some countries there is resistance to sophisticated market development. In Bangladesh, consumers are traditionally more accustomed to freshwater species and there are many religious restrictions on consuming different fish species. In India, fresh and salted/dried fish are the only popular products seen in the domestic market, partly because some value-added surimi products are being produced for the export market, thereby restricting supply on the local markets. In Indonesia, processors have been reluctant to invest in value-added technology because salted fish is the main market demand, and investment costs are thought to be high (FAO, 2003).

FAO (2003) further highlights some problems of product development, namely:

Box 1: The Vietnamese case

In Viet Nam, the Ministry of Fisheries estimates the percentage use of the marine finfish catch to be as follows:

  • Export - 20 percent

  • Fresh human consumption in Viet Nam - 20 percent

  • Feeding to animals (livestock, aquaculture) and fish meal - 25 percent

  • Fish sauce - 25 percent

In this respect, there are several different uses for low value/trash fish:

  • Fish sauce

  • Direct human food

  • Livestock feed

  • Aquaculture feed

Processing low value/trash fish for surimi is a recently developed process, but aquaculturists can pay more for low value/trash fish than processors of surimi. Pigs in coastal areas are traditionally fed low value/trash fish with rice bran, water spinach and banana stems. The most recent use of low value/trash fish in Viet Nam is for coastal aquaculture, the development of which depends on low value/trash fish. The demand for low value/trash fish for cage culture is a contributory factor to the recent doubling in the price of low value/trash fish. The price of low value/trash fish for fish meal production is rather high because of competition for it for fish sauce manufacture and more recently from direct use in fish culture. Previously, low value/trash fish was also used as a crop fertiliser.

There are two types of fish meal in Viet Nam: "fish powder" produced in a traditional artisanal way by sun-drying and grinding; and fish meal product using an industrial process in which raw materials are cooked before being dried. Fish powder is mainly used to feed livestock (pigs and poultry). Total production of fish powder was estimated to be about 185 000 tonnes and industrially produced fish meal of about 80 000 tonnes with a capacity of 100 000 - 130 000 tonnes.

Feed mills in Viet Nam only use domestically produced fish meal for livestock and some freshwater fish for grow-out feed as it is generally of poor quality. Fish meal is produced from low value/trash fish, low value fish (e.g. sharks), spoiled fish and processing wastes. Over 500 000 tonnes of fish are processed producing 300 000 tonnes of processing by-products. Fish meal for higher quality feed for fish fingerlings and crustaceans is imported and represents about 90 percent of the total fish meal used. Fish oil for aqua feed manufacture is also imported. Future demand for fish meal is expected to increase dramatically as aquaculture production increases and some species, such as catfish, are increasingly fed pelleted diets containing fish meal. While high market value species such as grouper, lobster and shrimp may be able to compete for fish meal on the local market, catfish and tilapia will need to be fed increasing amounts of plant-based proteins.

There are competing uses for low value/trash fish for livestock feed, fish sauce and direct human food, as well as for aquaculture feed and fish meal. Another common name for low value/trash fish is "pig fish" as it is used in traditional small-scale pig rearing at the household level. However, large-scale pig farming uses formulated feed and competes for fish meal. The species defined as low value/trash fish are also changing as some species previously considered to be low value/trash fish are now being used as human food fish because of advances in processing technology. An example is leatherjacket, a bony fish that was rarely eaten in the past but can now be de-boned and sun-dried for export.

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