Investigating the influence of nitrate nitrogen on post-smolt Atlantic salmon Salmo salar reproductive physiology in water recirculation aquaculture systems

Aquacultural Engineering
By: , and 



A major issue affecting land-based, closed containment Atlantic salmon Salmo salar growout production in water recirculation aquaculture systems (RAS) is precocious male maturation, which can negatively impact factors such as feed conversion, fillet yield, and product quality. Along with other water quality parameters, elevated nitrate nitrogen (NO3-N) has been shown to influence the reproductive development and endogenous sex steroid production in a number of aquatic animal species, including Atlantic salmon. We sought to determine whether elevated NO3-N in RAS can influence early maturation in post-smolt Atlantic salmon in an 8-month trial in replicated freshwater RAS. Post-smolt Atlantic salmon (102 ± 1 g) were stocked into six RAS, with three RAS randomly selected for dosing with high NO3-N (99 ± 1 mg/L) and three RAS set for low NO3-N (10 ± 0 mg/L). At 2-, 4-, 6-, and 8-months post-stocking, 5 fish were randomly sampled from each RAS, gonadosomatic index(GSI) data were collected, and plasma was sampled for 11-ketotestosterone(11-KT) quantification. At 4- and 8-months post-stocking, samples of culture tank and spring water (used as “makeup” or replacement water) were collected and tested for a suite of 42 hormonally active compounds using liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry, as well as for estrogenicity using the bioluminescent yeast estrogen screen (BLYES) reporter system. Finally, at 8-months post-stocking 8–9 salmon were sampled from each RAS for blood gas and chemistry analyses, and multiple organ tissues were sampled for histopathology evaluation. Overall, sexually mature males were highly prevalent in both NO3-N treatment groups by study’s end, and there did not appear to be an effect of NO3-N on male maturation prevalence based on grilse identification, GSI, and 11-KT results, indicating that other culture parameters likely instigated early maturation. No important differences were noted between treatment groups for whole blood gas and chemistry parameters, and no significant tissue changes were noted on histopathology. No hormones, hormone conjugates, or mycotoxins were detected in any water samples; phytoestrogens were generally detected at low levels but were unrelated to NO3-N treatment. Finally, low-level estrogenicity was detected in RAS water, but a NO3-N treatment effect could not be determined. The major findings of this study are i) the NO3-N treatments did not appear to be related to the observed male maturation, and ii) the majority of hormonally active compounds were not detectable in RAS water.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Investigating the influence of nitrate nitrogen on post-smolt Atlantic salmon Salmo salar reproductive physiology in water recirculation aquaculture systems
Series title Aquacultural Engineering
DOI 10.1016/j.aquaeng.2016.09.003
Volume 78
Issue Part A
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Kansas Water Science Center
Description 7 p.
First page 2
Last page 8
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