The relationships between stocking density and welfare in farmed rainbow trout
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Ellis, T and North, B and Scott, AP and Bromage, NR and Porter, MJR and Gadd, D, The relationships between stocking density and welfare in farmed rainbow trout, Journal of Fish Biology, 61, (3) pp. 493-531. ISSN 0022-1112 (2002) [Refereed Article]
There is increasing public, governmental and commercial interest in the welfare of intensively farmed fish and stocking density has been highlighted as an area of particular concern. Here we draw scientific attention and debate to this emerging research field by reviewing the evidence for effects of density on rainbow trout. Although no explicit reference to ' welfare ' has been made, there are 43 studies which have examined the effects of density on production and physiological parameters of rainbow trout. Increasing stocking density does not appear to cause prolonged crowding stress in rainbow trout. However, commonly reported effects of increasing density are reductions in food conversion efficiency, nutritional condition and growth, and an increase in fin erosion. Such changes are indicative of a reduced welfare status-although the magnitude of the effects has tended to be dependent upon study-specific conditions. Systematic observations on large scale commercial farms are therefore required, rather than extrapolation of these mainly small-scale experimental findings. There is dispute as to the cause of the observed effects of increasing density, with water quality deterioration and/or an increase in aggressive behaviour being variously proposed. Both causes can theoretically generate the observed effects of increasing density, and the relative contribution of the two causes may depend upon the specific conditions. However, documentation of the relationship between density and the effects of aggressive behaviour at relevant commercial densities is lacking. Consequently only inferential evidence exists that aggressive behaviour generates the observed effects of increasing density, whereas there is direct experimental evidence that water quality degradation is responsible. Nevertheless, there are contradictory recommendations in the literature for key water quality parameters to ensure adequate welfare status. The potential for welfare to be detrimentally affected by non-aggressive behavioural interactions (abrasion, collision, obstruction) and low densities (due to excessive aggressive behaviour and a poor feeding response) have been largely overlooked. Legislation directly limiting stocking density is likely to be unworkable, and a more practical option might be to prescribe acceptable levels of water quality, health, nutritional condition and behavioural indicators. © 2002 The Fisheries Society of the British Isles. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
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