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Assessing the welfare of adult Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar during commercial live-haul transport Tang, Stephen

Abstract

I used physiological stress as in indicator of welfare of adult Atlantic salmon during transport onboard a commercial live-haul vessel, the Sterling Carrier under actual operational conditions. This state-of-the-art vessel incorporates both flow-thru (open-hold) and re-circulating (closed-hold) live-hold configurations to safely transport fish under diverse environmental conditions. Measurements of bulk oxygen uptake rates (bulk MO₂) for fish masses ranging from 20 to 40 tons during open-hold transports (n=89) revealed a slightly elevated bulk MO₂ that was comparable to routine bulk MO₂ measured in adult Atlantic salmon, Salmo salar held in large tanks and also to resting MO₂ of individual Pacific salmonids measured in swim-respirometers. These results indicate a low level of stress, and suggest that open-hold live-haul transport aboard the Sterling Carrier does not compromise fish welfare. While closed-hold transport protects fish from poor environments, water quality conditions progressively deteriorate as respiratory CO₂ accumulates in the water. I measured water CO₂ and pH changes during closed-hold transport experiments and used these data to model CO₂ and pH changes over a wide range of transport conditions. Model outputs demonstrated that the partial pressure of CO₂ (Pco₂) could accumulate to potentially deleterious levels (>10 torr) in 20-158 min depending on fish stress levels and loading densities. These data may be useful in estimating transport lengths possible under Pco₂ thresholds, which are presently lacking for live-haul transport. The effects of 3-h and 24-h exposures to elevated water Pco₂ (hypercarbia) on blood pH and post-mortem flesh quality were also measured in adult Atlantic salmon. While elevated water Pco₂ disturbed blood pH as predicted, there were minimal effects on flesh quality based on rigor mortis and flesh pH assessments, which were further reduced if fish were allowed to recover for 24-h after a hypercarbic exposure. This study provides novel insights into a) current techniques of assessing fish welfare during live-haul transport, b) limitations associated with transporting fish under re-circulating conditions, and c) effects of elevated Pco₂ on flesh quality indicators in adult Atlantic salmon.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

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