Physiological and Behavioural Responses to Noxious Stimuli in the Atlantic Cod (Gadus morhua)

Jared R. Eckroth, University of Oslo
Øyvind Aas-Hansen, Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture Research
Lynne U. Sneddon, University of Liverpool
Helena Bichão, Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture Research
Kjell B. Døving, University of Oslo



In the present study, our aim was to compare physiological and behavioural responses to different noxious stimuli to those of a standardized innocuous stimulus, to possibly identify aversive responses indicative of injury detection in a commercially important marine teleost fish, the Atlantic cod. Individual fish were administered with a noxious stimulus to the lip under short-term general anaesthesia (MS-222). The noxious treatments included injection of 0.1% or 2% acetic acid, 0.005% or 0.1% capsaicin, or piercing the lip with a commercial fishing hook. Counts of opercular beat rate (OBR) at 10, 30, 60, 90 and 120 min and observations of behaviour at 30 and 90 min post-treatment were compared with pre-treatment values and with control fish injected with physiological saline, an innocuous stimulus. Circulatory levels of physiological stress indicators were determined in all fish at 120 minutes post-treatment. All treatments evoked temporarily increased OBR that returned to pre-treatment levels at 60 minutes (saline, 0.005% capsaicin, hook), 90 minutes (0.1% acetic acid, 0.1% capsaicin), or 120 minutes (2% acetic acid), but with no significant differences from the control group at any time point. Fish treated with 0.1% and 2% acetic acid and 0.1% capsaicin displayed increased hovering close to the bottom of the aquaria and fish given 2% acetic acid and 0.1% capsaicin also displayed a reduced use of shelter. The only effect seen in hooked fish was brief episodes of lateral head shaking which were not seen pre-treatment or in the other groups, possibly reflecting a resiliency to tissue damage in the mouth area related to the tough nature of the Atlantic cod diet. There were no differences between groups in circulatory stress indicators two hours after treatment. This study provides novel data on behavioural indicators that could be used to assess potentially aversive events in Atlantic cod.