Feeding Marine Fish Larvae with Airlifts

Above: A Melanuras wrasse larvae fourteen days after hatching. UF/IFAS Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory Photo by Kevin Barden.

Marine fish are raised for the food, bait, and ornamental (aquarium fish) industries. Very young marine fish (larvae) have specific food needs, and meeting these needs is one of the challenges of producing quality fish in aquaculture.1 Airlifts can help producers cheaply and effectively capture the specific kinds of live food fish larva require.2

Eating on a Tiny Scale

Fish larva eat very small prey such as rotifers (a kind of small metazoan), brine shrimp, and copepods (a kind of crustacean). Most marine fish larva are attracted to the movements of these tiny organisms and will only eat live food. This food must have the appropriate nutrition, size, and behavior for the fish larva in question.1

An airlift in use

An airlift in use. UF/IFAS Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory Photo by Jason Broach

Capturing Prey with Airlifts

Research at UF/IFAS has shown that airlifts can be used to remove these tiny food organisms from the tanks where they are cultured. These food organisms can then be counted and feed to fish larva.

An airlift works by using air bubbles to force tank water through a pipe and into a container. This container is fitted with various screens that help filter out the food organisms in the water.

Organisms that are small enough to fit through the screen go into and stay in the container, while those that are too big stay in the tank. Using screens of different sizes allows producers to select only the kind and size of food that is appropriate for their fish larvae.2


  1. Cortney L. Ohs, Eric J. Cassiano, and Adelaide Rhodes, Choosing an Appropriate Live Feed for Larviculture of Marine Fish, FA167, Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, 2016, https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fa167
  2. Eric Cassiano, Matthew DiMaggio, Cortney Ohs, and John Marcellus, Using Airlifts to Collect and Concentrate Copepod Nauplii, FA188, Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, 2015, https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fa188