Abstract Probiotics, which are micro-organisms or their products with health benefit to the host, have found use in aquaculture as a means of disease control, supplementing or even in some cases replacing the use of antimicrobial compounds. A wide range of microalgae (Tetraselmis), yeasts (Debaryomyces, Phaffia and Saccharomyces) and Gram-positive (Bacillus, Carnobacterium, Enterococcus, Lactobacillus, Lactococcus, Micrococcus, Streptococcus and Weissella) and Gram-negative bacteria (Aeromonas, Alteromonas, Photorhodobacterium, Pseudomonas and Vibrio) has been evaluated. However, the mode of action of the probiotics is rarely investigated, but possibilities include competitive exclusion, i.e. the probiotics actively inhibit the colonization of potential pathogens in the digestive tract by antibiosis or by competition for nutrients and/or space, alteration of microbial metabolism, and/or by the stimulation of host immunity. Probiotics may stimulate appetite and improve nutrition by the production of vitamins, detoxification of compounds in the diet, and by the breakdown of indigestible components. There is accumulating evidence that probiotics are effective at inhibiting a wide range of fish pathogens, but the reasons for the inhibitions are often unstated.