Janhunen, M., Piironen, J., Vainikka, A. et al. 2021. The effects of environmental enrichment on hatchery-performance, smolt migration and capture rates in landlocked Atlantic salmon. PLoS ONE 16(12), e0260944.
Enrichment of rearing environment with natural elements has been suggested to improve the welfare and post-release survival of cultured fish. We studied the combined effects of shelter structures, periodical water flow and water level changes on pre- and post-release performance of critically endangered landlocked Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar m. sebago). Relative to standard (plain) rearing tanks, provision of enrichment improved fish condition factor and survival during the first year of rearing when most mortality was attributable to parasitic and bacterial infections. The consequent higher density in enriched tanks probably induced greater growth variation and more dorsal fin damages than found in fish of standard tanks. Possibly this was partly due to the applied changes in water level. Experimentally determined smolt migration tendency at age 3 did not differ, on average, between the rearing groups, but enriched-reared fish showed clearly less variation in total movement activity than standard-reared fish. Experimental angling in earthen ponds did not suggest divergent vulnerability between the differentially reared fish at age 3, but decreased condition during the preceding growth season increased vulnerability to fishing. Based on long-term post-stocking tag returns in large-lake fisheries, fish length at release but not rearing method affected the capture rates of fish released at age 2. When released at age 3 the fish grown in enriched environment had a higher risk to be captured with stationary gears and earlier by hook and line gears compared to standard-reared conspecifics. Earlier time of maximal smolt migration activity was associated with an increased risk of being captured. We suggest that environmental enrichment may modulate growth- and behavior-related qualities that indirectly increased the vulnerability to fishing in natural conditions but not in experimental setting. The favorable effects of enrichment on early survival encourages adopting enriched rearing practices in supportive breeding of landlocked salmon.