Scientists reveal farmed salmon deafness cause
2017-08-22 18:04:38   copyfrom:    hits:

Salmon harvest at aquaculture farm (Photo: Copyright: FIS)AUSTRALIATuesday, August 22, 2017,01:20 (GMT + 9)A new s

Salmon harvest at aquaculture farm. (Photo: Copyright: FIS)


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Tuesday, August 22, 2017, 01:20 (GMT + 9)


A new study carried out by scientists of the University of Melbourne reveals that half of the world’s farmed salmon are part deaf due to accelerated growth rates in aquaculture

The study results now offer a better understanding of the effects of a common inner ear deformity, and some specific actions to tackle this welfare issue.

This team of researchers last year showed that loss of hearing in farmed fish is caused by an inner ear deformity, and they have now linked that deformity to the fish’s fast growth rate.

Otoliths are tiny crystals in a fish's inner ear which detect sound, much like the ear bones in humans, so even a small change can cause massive hearing problems.

The deformation was first recorded in the 1960s, but this team was the first to show that it affects more than 95 per cent of fully-grown hatchery-produced fish globally.

The study lead author Tormey Reimer from the School of Biosciences at the University of Melbourne explained that the cause of the otolith deformity was a 50-year mystery until now and that they looked at over 1000 otoliths from fish farmed in Norway, Chile, Scotland, Canada and Australia, and found that this deformity was extremely common, but only in farmed fish.

“Then we found that we could reduce the incidence of the deformity by reducing how fast a fish grew. The fastest-growing fish were three times more likely to be afflicted than the slowest, even at the same age. Such a clear result was unprecedented,” Reimer stressed.

Normal otoliths are made of the mineral ‘aragonite’, but deformed otoliths are partly made of ‘vaterite’ which is lighter, larger, and less stable. The team showed that fish afflicted with vaterite could lose up to 50 per cent of their hearing.

The team found that vaterite was seemingly caused by a combination of genetics, diet, and exposure to extended daylight, all of which differ between farmed and wild fish. But there was one factor that linked them all: growth rate.

Study co-author, Dr Tim Dempster, clarified that the deformity is irreversible, and its effects only get worse with age.

“These results raise serious questions about the welfare of farmed fish. In many countries, farming practices must allow for the ‘Five Freedoms’, which are freedom from hunger or thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury or disease; freedom to express (most) normal behaviour; and freedom from fear and distress,” said Dr Dempster.

The scientist pointed out that producing animals with deformities violates two of these freedoms: the freedom from disease, and the freedom to express normal behaviour, adding that fish farms are very noisy environments, so some hearing loss may reduce stress in hatcheries and sea cages.

Team of researchers highlighted that the deformity could also explain why some conservation methods are not very effective and that between habitat destruction and overfishing, wild salmon are declining in many areas.

“The next step should work out if vaterite affects the survival rate of hatchery fish released into the wild. Stocking rivers with hearing-impaired fish may be throwing money and resources into the sea,” said study co-author Professor Steve Swearer.

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