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Captive Salmon "Not a Substitute" for Wild Spawners, Research Suggests

23rd October 2020
The culturally iconic leaping Atlantic salmon The culturally iconic leaping Atlantic salmon

New research led by scientists at University College Cork (UCC) which uses genetic fingerprinting techniques indicated that captive-born salmon are far less successful at reproducing as wild salmon spawning in the same river.

“We looked at the lifetime reproductive success of salmon spawning naturally in the wild,” joint lead author of the study Ronan O’Sullivan of UCC ‘s school of biological, earth and environmental sciences said.

“ So for each adult fish that returned to the river from the sea, we counted up the total number of offspring they produced across their lives that themselves survived to spawning age,” he said.

“We used a genetic pedigree coupled with four decades of salmon data from the Marine Institute’s research facility on the Burrishoole catchment in County Mayo. The results show that captive-bred fish that are deliberately or inadvertently introduced into the wild contribute fewer offspring to the next generation than wild fish, and therefore are not a substitute for natural wild spawners,” he said.

“Thus, they do not enhance the conservation status of naturally self-sustaining salmon populations,” he said.

Dr Paul Connolly, Marine Institute of Ireland chief executive officer said that his organisation welcomed the use of Marine Institute data to “answer a question of international significance that is relevant to conservation efforts for the culturally iconic Atlantic salmon”.

“ This analysis underlines the importance of having long–term biological data to allow management decisions to be based on the best available scientific evidence,” he added.

Further research is needed to work out exactly what is happening when the wild and captive salmon mix, UCC says.

However, it says the research team suspects that hybrid offspring produced by matings between captive and wild parents are genetically less well-equipped to deal with life in the river.

If true, this means that the widespread release of captive animals into the wild might actually do more harm than good in many cases, UCC says.

It says the research team comprised an international group of collaborators based at University College Cork, the Marine Institute, Queen’s University Belfast, the University of Helsinki and the University of Edinburgh. Their research findings are published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The research is available freely via Open Access here

Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004) on Irish helicopter search and rescue; and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010).

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Marine Science Perhaps it is the work of the Irish research vessel RV Celtic Explorer out in the Atlantic Ocean that best highlights the essential nature of marine research, development and sustainable management, through which Ireland is developing a strong and well-deserved reputation as an emerging centre of excellence. From Wavebob Ocean energy technology to aquaculture to weather buoys and oil exploration these pages document the work of Irish marine science and how Irish scientists have secured prominent roles in many European and international marine science bodies.

 

At A Glance – Ocean Facts

  • 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by the ocean
  • The ocean is responsible for the water cycle, which affects our weather
  • The ocean absorbs 30% of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by human activity
  • The real map of Ireland has a seabed territory ten times the size of its land area
  • The ocean is the support system of our planet.
  • Over half of the oxygen we breathe was produced in the ocean
  • The global market for seaweed is valued at approximately €5.4 billion
  • · Coral reefs are among the oldest ecosystems in the world — at 230 million years
  • 1.9 million people live within 5km of the coast in Ireland
  • Ocean waters hold nearly 20 million tons of gold. If we could mine all of the gold from the ocean, we would have enough to give every person on earth 9lbs of the precious metal!
  • Aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector in the world – Ireland is ranked 7th largest aquaculture producer in the EU
  • The Atlantic Ocean is the second largest ocean in the world, covering 20% of the earth’s surface. Out of all the oceans, the Atlantic Ocean is the saltiest
  • The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world. It’s bigger than all the continents put together
  • Ireland is surrounded by some of the most productive fishing grounds in Europe, with Irish commercial fish landings worth around €200 million annually
  • 97% of the earth’s water is in the ocean
  • The ocean provides the greatest amount of the world’s protein consumed by humans
  • Plastic affects 700 species in the oceans from plankton to whales.
  • Only 10% of the oceans have been explored.
  • 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year, equal to dumping a garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute.
  • 12 humans have walked on the moon but only 3 humans have been to the deepest part of the ocean.

(Ref: Marine Institute)

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