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Starfish meal


Click on the "Nutritional aspects" tab for recommendations for ruminants, pigs, poultry, rabbits, horses, fish and crustaceans
Common names 

Starfish meal, sea star meal

Related feed(s) 

Starfish, or sea stars, are echinoderms belonging to the class Asteroidea. They are usually predators of molluscs, and starfish predation is a major problem for the commercial cultivation of bivalves such as oysters, scallops and mussels (Lee, 1951; Barkhouse et al., 2007). Notable predatory species include Asterias forbesi, Asterias vulgaris and Asterias rubens in the Atlantic, and Asterias amurensis and Coscinasterias sp. in the Pacific.

Mechanical control methods consist in preventing predation by fences or in removing the starfish using "mops", dredges, traps or hand-picking. The latter methods result in variable amounts of starfish that need to be destroyed or recycled. Fresh starfish can yield one ton of meal per four tons of raw material (Lee, 1951). Today, harvested starfish are usually turned into fertilizer or composted. Starfish are also used for arts and crafts, and for biological research (Barkhouse et al., 2007).

In the first half of the 20th century, concerns about the shortage of protein feed during wartime led researchers in Europe and North America to investigate the potential of starfish meal for pigs and poultry (Lee, 1951; Bigwood, 1947). While the results showed that starfish meal was usable to feed animals, it was concluded that the commercial production of starfish meal was not practicable, due to the extreme variability of the product, large fluctuations in availability, low feed quality and relatively high production costs compared to competing protein sources such as fish meal or oil by-products (Lee, 1951; Barkhouse et al., 2007). However, starfish meal was produced and used locally to feed animals in Europe and North America during and between the two World Wars (Galstoff et al., 1938; Frens, 1945), and perhaps over the last decades, though not significantly (Barkhouse et al., 2007).

Nutritional aspects
Nutritional attributes 

Starfish meal has a high mineral content, ranging from to 40 to 67% DM, mostly consisting of calcium carbonate from the exoskeleton and foreign materials added during harvesting (seashells, pebbles). Phosphorus content is very low (less than 1%). Protein content was found to be in the 25-35% range (Lee, 1951; Stutz et al., 1964). Fat content is about 8-10% (with values up to 15%) (Lee, 1951). Defatted meals have also been produced (Levin et al., 1960).

Starfish Asterina pectinifera contain antimicrobial agents that are stable in a wide range of pHs and at high temperatures (Choi DonHo et al., 1999).

Potential constraints 

Starfish contain antinutritional factors that can be deleterious to animals.

  • Thiaminase is found in several starfish species including the marine pest Asterias forbesi. It destroys thiamine and may cause lethal thiamine deficiency in poultry. Thiaminase is partly eliminated when the meal is dried at a temperature higher than 70°C. Its depressing effect should then become negligible when starfish is included at less than 10% in the diet (Lee, 1951).
  • Ciguatoxin, a toxin known to cause fish poisoning, has been identified in some starfish species (Smith, 1992). Other unidentified toxic factors are present in starfish (Rao et al., 1985). However, it is unknown whether these factors are active in dried starfish meal.

In the Netherlands, starfish meal was found to be a relatively usable source of protein for fattening pigs during World War II. However, the mineral content was limiting though not detrimental to the animals, and starfish meal was not thought to be a valuable feed in normal feeding conditions (Bigwood, 1947).


Starfish meal is inferior to fish meal but compares favourably to crab, lobster or shrimp by-product meals (Barkhouse et al., 2007). Metabolizable energy content and crude protein digestibility were found to be extremely low (0.65 MJ/kg and 15% respectively) (Stutz et al., 1964). Meals that are insufficiently dried, such as sun-dried starfish, may contain detrimental levels of thiaminase that can result in lethal thiamine deficiency (Lee, 1951).

Growing chicks

Starfish meal can be used satisfactorily in poultry rations at up to 6% of the diet as a part substitute for other protein sources. The unbalanced Ca:P ratio is the main limiting factor, and higher amounts are detrimental to growth. However, up to 8% starfish meal can be used if monocalcium phosphate or other high phosphorus carriers are included in the diet (Barkhouse et al., 2007). Defatted starfish meal mixed with fish meal to supply 10% of the protein in the diet was found to be satisfactory (Levin et al., 1960).

Laying hens

Starfish meal compared favourably with fish meal as a protein supplement in layers diets (7.5-8.5% of the diet) and supplied calcium in place of the usual carbonate sources such as oyster shells or limestone (Lee, 1951).


Supplements made from detoxified starfish skin (Asterias rollestoni) were found to improve the growth rate, weight gain and survival rate of young olive flounders (Paralichthys olivaceus) (Xu et al., 2002).

Nutritional tables
Tables of chemical composition and nutritional value 

Avg: average or predicted value; SD: standard deviation; Min: minimum value; Max: maximum value; Nb: number of values (samples) used

Main analysis Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Dry matter % as fed 85.0 1
Crude protein % DM 35.3 1
Crude fibre % DM 47.1 1
Ash % DM 9.4 1
Pig nutritive values Unit Avg SD Min Max Nb
Energy digestibility, growing pig % 16.2 *

The asterisk * indicates that the average value was obtained by an equation.


Frens, 1945

Last updated on 24/10/2012 00:45:08

Datasheet citation 

Tran G., 2015. Starfish meal. Feedipedia, a programme by INRAE, CIRAD, AFZ and FAO. https://www.feedipedia.org/node/201 Last updated on October 8, 2015, 15:33

English correction by Tim Smith (Animal Science consultant) and Hélène Thiollet (AFZ)
Image credits