Figure 1. Severe opercular erosion in farmed rainbow trout.

Short operculum – Gross Pathology

Bone deformities occur regularly in fish farms around the world. The operculum is one of the earliest craniofacial bones to form embryologically and is subject to a range of developmental and acquired abnormalities. Opercular shortening is one of the most prevalent diseases in larval and juvenile salmonids (and other species), sometimes affecting up to 80% of fish in a population.

Figure 1. Severe opercular erosion in farmed rainbow trout.
Figure 1. Severe opercular erosion in farmed rainbow trout.

In those species that rely on the operculum to help move water over the gills, loss of efficiency in this part of the pumping mechanism puts an increased burden on respiration and excretion. Although salmonids have a respiratory reserve capacity, opercular shortening will inevitably compromise this, and result in increased blood flow (hyperaemia) in order to compensate.

Figure 2. Moderate opercular erosion in farmed rainbow trout. Such extreme shortening will inevitably compromise the opercular pump, and therefore reduce the efficiency of respiration.
Figure 2. Moderate opercular erosion in farmed rainbow trout. Such extreme shortening will inevitably compromise the opercular pump, and therefore reduce the efficiency of respiration.








Shortening can be bilateral or unilateral, and can be the result of erosion and remodelling, or simply failure to develop properly (hypoplasia). Bone development (osteogenesis) requires high levels of oxygen, so anything that interferes with a well-oxygenated blood supply to the developing tissue will lead to abnormalities.

Figure 3. Stereoscope. Opercular shortening with gill exposure in juvenile Atlantic salmon.
Figure 3. Stereoscope. Opercular shortening with gill exposure in juvenile Atlantic salmon.





In addition to loss of efficient respiration, opercular shortening exposes the underlying gill tissue which predisposes it to mechanical damage and infection. In the population overall, such changes can lead to a decrease in food consumption and variable mortality, and in addition can affect the presentation of the final product to the consumer.

Figure 4. Stereoscope. Opercular shortening with gill exposure in juvenile Atlantic salmon
Figure 4. Stereoscope. Opercular shortening with gill exposure in juvenile Atlantic salmon





The predisposing factors are varied but include environmental ones such as temperature (high temperature during incubation), pH, low dissolved oxygen, supersaturation (leading to gas bubble disease), heavy metals, salinity, light exposure times and high levels of bacteria.



Genetic alterations can lead to a high prevalence of opercular alterations; this has been seen in triploid Atlantic salmon. Nutritionally, shortening can occur with inadequate levels of fatty acids, proteins, ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and retinoic acid (vitamin A).

Figure 5. Atlantic salmon, juvenile with short operculum. Note the gill exposure.
Figure 5. Atlantic salmon, juvenile with short operculum. Note the gill exposure.



Other factors include teratogens such as malachite green and high biomass, possibly resulting in high bacterial loading, and elevated proteolytic enzymes that can erode the trailing edge of the operculum.








REFERENCES

  • Argüello-Guevara, W., Bohórquez-Cruz, M., & Silva, A. (2014). Malformaciones craneales en larvas y juveniles de peces cultivados. Latin american journal of aquatic research42(5), 950-962.
  • Cahu, C., Infante, J. Z., & Takeuchi, T. (2003). Nutritional components affecting skeletal development in fish larvae. Aquaculture227(1-4), 245-258.
  • Jobling, M. 2010. The Rearing Environment. Finfish Aquaculture Diversification. N. R. Le François, M. Jobling, C. Carter, eds. CAB International. pp. 52.
  • Morel, C., Adriaens, D., Boone, M., De Wolf, T., Van Hoorebeke, L., & Sorgeloos, P. (2010). Visualizing mineralization in deformed opercular bones of larval gilthead sea bream (Sparus aurata). Journal of Applied Ichthyology26(2), 278-279.
  • Sadler, J., Pankhurst, P. M., & King, H. R. (2001). High prevalence of skeletal deformity and reduced gill surface area in triploid Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar L.). Aquaculture198(3-4), 369-386.
  • Thuong, N. P., Verstraeten, B., Kegel, B. D., Christiaens, J., Wolf, T. D., Sorgeloos, P., … & Adriaens, D. (2017). Ontogenesis of opercular deformities in gilthead sea bream Sparus aurata: a histological description. Journal of fish biology91(5), 1419-1434.

By: Carlos Sandoval

Carlos Sandoval Hurtado is a Veterinary doctor at Universidad Católica de Temuco, Masters in Science, specializing in Animal Health at Universidad Austral de Chile. He has over 15 years experience in the area of pathology and histopathology of fish and other species, becoming one of the most renowned histopathologists in Chile. He is currently the Director of VeHiCe (Veterinary Histopathology Center) a leading laboratory in histopathology whose clients include laboratories, universities, aquaculture industry and avian industry mainly.

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