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Disentangling the environmental processes responsible for the world's largest farmed fish-killing harmful algal bloom: Chile, 2016

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-20, 20:09 authored by Mardones, JI, Paredes, J, Godoy, M, Suarez, R, Norambuena, L, Vargas, V, Fuenzalida, G, Pinilla, E, Artal, O, Rojas, X, Dorantes-Aranda, JJ, Lee Chang, KJ, Anderson, DM, Gustaaf HallegraeffGustaaf Hallegraeff
The dictyochophyte microalga Pseudochattonella verruculosa was responsible for the largest farmed fish mortality ever recorded in the world, with losses for the Chilean salmon industry amounting to US$ 800 M in austral summer 2016. Super-scale climatic anomalies resulted in strong vertical water column stratification that stimulated development of a dynamic P. verruculosa thin layer (up to 38 μg chl a L−1) for several weeks in Reloncaví Sound. Hydrodynamic modeling (MIKE 3D) indicated that the Sound had extremely low flushing rates (between 121 and 200 days) in summer 2016. Reported algal cell densities of 7000–20,000 cells mL−1 generated respiratory distress in fish that was unlikely due to low dissolved oxygen (permanently >4 mg L−1). Histological examination of salmon showed that gills were the most affected organ with significant tissue damage and circulatory disorders. It is possible that some of this damage was due to a diatom bloom that preceded the Pseudochattonella event, thereby rendering the fish more susceptible to Pseudochattonella. No correlation between magnitude of fish mortality and algal cell abundance nor fish age was evident. Algal cultures revealed rapid growth rates and high cell densities (up to 600,000 cells mL−1), as well as highly complex life cycle stages that can be easily overlooked in monitoring programs. In cell-based bioassays, Chilean P. verruculosa was only toxic to the RTgill-W1 cell line following exposures to high cell densities of lysed cells (>100,000 cells mL−1). Fatty acid profiles of a cultured strain showed elevated concentrations of potentially ichthyotoxic, long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) (69.7% ± 1.8%)- stearidonic (SDA, 18:4ω3–28.9%), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22:6ω3–22.3%), suggesting that lipid peroxidation may help to explain the mortalities, though superoxide production by Pseudochattonella was low (< 0.21 ± 0.19 pmol O2 cell−1 h−1). It therefore remains unknown what the mechanisms of salmon mortality were during the Pseudochattonella bloom. Multiple mitigation strategies were used by salmon farmers during the event, with only delayed seeding of juvenile fish into the cages and towing of cages to sanctuary sites being effective. Airlift pumping, used effectively against other fish-killing HABs in the US and Canada was not effective, perhaps because it brought subsurface layers of Pseudochattonella to the surface, or and it also may have lysed the fragile cells, rendering them more lethal. The present study highlights knowledge gaps and inefficiency of contingency plans by the fish farming industry to overcome future fish-killing algal blooms under future climate change scenarios. The use of new technologies based on molecular methods for species detection, good farm practices by fish farms, and possible mitigation strategies are discussed.


Publication title

Science of the Total Environment



Article number









Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies


Elsevier Science Bv

Place of publication

Po Box 211, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1000 Ae

Rights statement

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V.

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Aquaculture fin fish (excl. tuna); Control of pests, diseases and exotic species in marine environments

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