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Behavioural responses in wild cod (Gadus morhua L.) exposed to fish holding water

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Trine Dale
Bjørn-Steinar Sæther, Pål Arne Bjørn, Trine Dale


Local fishermen in several areas of Norway assert that salmon farms have caused the wild migrating cod to change their migratory behaviour, so that they no longer enter their natural spawning grounds in the fjords. If the asserted changes in behaviour of wild cod populations can be linked to establishment of salmon farms, water-soluble odorants are then possible candidates to explain such a connection. Chemical stimulants are important to the individual fish's conception of the surrounding environment. High density stocks of fish in a farm are expected to release large amounts of waterborne information. The present laboratory experiments were conducted to test behavioural responses in Atlantic cod exposed to water containing metabolites and waste from farmed salmon. The trials were conducted on single fish in a multiple chamber preference system. The results show that migrating wild Atlantic cod chose to spend more time in chambers without addition of water from the salmon tank, regardless of their maturation status, and even at very low concentrations (0.2%). The avoidance is probably due to presence of chemical compounds with olfactory properties from salmon, since anosmic cod did not elicit such response. Farmed cod, on the other hand, does not avoid water from the salmon tank, and stationary wild cod caught nearby a fish farm had a less pronounced response as compared to wild migrating cod. The response seen is not species specific, as wild migrating cod responded similar to water from a tank holding farmed cod as to water from salmon. These results do not preclude fishermen's observations that cod change their behaviour in areas with fish fanning activity. Such a change in behaviour could be a response to water-soluble odorants, but needs to be validated and detailed in further laboratory experiments as well as in nature before any conclusions can be made. (c) 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.