Modest levels o nitrate nitrogen – in the 75 to 100 mg/Lrange – may be more harmul to aquaculture-raisedrainbow trout than producers realize. A team o scientistsat the Conservation Fund’s Freshwater Institute led byJohn Davidson documented deormities and signifcantbehavioral changes in rainbow trout (
)raised in recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) with nitratenitrogen concentrations at levels less than one-tenth therecommended maximum nitrate nitrogen level o 1,000mg/L. Theybelieve thechangeswerespurredby chronicexposureto nitratenitrogen. “I you seea problemin your system, don’t disregardnitrate nitrogen as a possiblecause,” warns Davidson.In act, Davidson and his colleagues almost did exactly that.They had designed a study comparing recirculating systemswith various rates o water exchange. Where hydraulicretention time was longer and the eed loading rate washigh, nitrate nitrogen and other water quality parametersgrew more concentrated and the researchers observed fshswimming aster. Many o the fsh swam on their sides, anunusual behavior possibly linked to abnormalities in theirswim bladders or skeletal deormities. Fish in near-zeroexchange recirculation systems also tended to “gasp” or“yawn” at the surace o the water, and had higher rateso skeletal deormities and mortality than ish in morerequently-rereshed tanks.“The biggest surprise to us as we were trying to determinewhy the fsh were behaving the way they were was thepossibility o a connection to nitrate nitrogen,” saysDavidson. “Because o the literature we had been usedto reading, we didn’t even consider nitrate nitrogen as aparameter o concern until I plotted it out and saw a veryclose correlation.”Davidson and his team published their indings in
Health and WelareDavidson notes that the conventional limit or nitratenitrogen in aquaculture tank water or rainbow trout isbased on an LC50 value, a concentration that kills hal thepopulation. But sublethal concentrations may be quietlystealing profts and creating unhealthy conditions.“I ish arestressedbased on awater qualityparameterthat’s present,that couldimpactperormancein other ways,like eedconversion or growth rate,” hesays.In tanks with low water exchangerates, high eed loading rates andhigh nitrate nitrogen concentrations,trout swam as much as twice asast as their counterparts in high-exchange recirculating systems– as ast as 49 cm/sec, well abovethe speed o the tank’s current.Davidson suspects that sustainedast swimming can lead to higheroxygen demand, lactic acid buildupin muscle tissue, exhaustion, andeven deormities that contribute toside-swimming behavior.“As soon as you start seeingbehavioral changes, you’ve got tostart thinking about fsh welare,” headds. The aquaculture industryis working hard to stay ahead o activist groups who are beginning-continued-
The YSI Pro Plus was used duringthe studies to acquire ast, simplefeld measurements o nitratenitrogen.
YSI Professional Plus with Nitrate
Application Note A597
Is Chronic Exposure to Nitrate Nitrogen a HiddenDanger to Trout in Recirculating Aquaculture Systems?
Examples o nitrate nitrogen values using two separate lab methods vs.the YSI Proessional Plus instrument with nitrate sensor in the feld.