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Evaluating the chronic effects of nitrate on the health and performance of post-smolt Atlantic salmon Salmo salar in freshwater recirculation aquaculture systems

Davidson, John, Good, Christopher, Williams, Christina, Summerfelt, Steven T.
Aquacultural engineering 2017 v.79 pp. 1-8
Salmo salar, blood gases, condition factor, feed conversion, fish health, freshwater, histopathology, long term effects, nitrate nitrogen, nitrification, recirculating aquaculture systems, salmon, smolts, sodium nitrate, swimming, water quality
Commercial production of Atlantic salmon smolts, post-smolts, and market-size fish using land-based recirculation aquaculture systems (RAS) is expanding. RAS generally provide a nutrient-rich environment in which nitrate accumulates as an end-product of nitrification. An 8-month study was conducted to compare the long-term effects of “high” (99±1mg/L NO3-N) versus “low” nitrate-nitrogen (10.0±0.3mg/L NO3-N) on the health and performance of post-smolt Atlantic salmon cultured in replicate freshwater RAS. Equal numbers of salmon with an initial mean weight of 102±1g were stocked into six 9.5m3 RAS. Three RAS were maintained with high NO3-N via continuous dosing of sodium nitrate and three RAS were maintained with low NO3-N resulting solely from nitrification. An average daily water exchange rate equivalent to 60% of the system volume limited the accumulation of water quality parameters other than nitrate. Atlantic salmon performance metrics (e.g. weight, length, condition factor, thermal growth coefficient, and feed conversion ratio) were not affected by 100mg/L NO3-N and cumulative survival was >99% for both treatments. No important differences were noted between treatments for whole blood gas, plasma chemistry, tissue histopathology, or fin quality parameters suggesting that fish health was unaffected by nitrate concentration. Abnormal swimming behaviors indicative of stress or reduced welfare were not observed. This research suggests that nitrate-nitrogen concentrations≤100mg/L do not affect post-smolt Atlantic salmon health or performance under the described conditions.