Return of the cod monsters

Not only was the last report of hideous mutant cyclop cod a follow-up to an earlier news story in the Norwegian press, the subject of deformed farmed fish runs deeper. Even though some of my work means keeping an eye on the aquaculture industry here, it isn’t easy to stay on top of stories like this – they don’t often make it to top headline status, and the cod farming sector is minuscule compared to the salmon.

Now it seems the problem is known in the Trondheimsfjord as well as in the far north.

According to Norwegian news agency NTB, a cod farming operation in the region will close its facility. ‘Large numbers’ of deformed cod have been caught in the fjord and the Norwegian Association for Environmental Protection has filed charges.

Many of the fish display a red rash, large boils or sores, while others have deformations in the head or mouth, much like the star specimen I linked to last time.

The article, which sites national daily Dagbladet as a source, names Frengen Havbruk as the source of the mutant fish, according to charges by the Association for Environmental Protection. The AEP have filed charges of violation of the animal protection act, saying that the cod were so deformed they would have likely suffered a painful death, their mouths being unsuited to feeding in the wild.

The Frengen facility will shut down at Easter in any event, and all they would say about the charges was that they had already begun to slaughter their fish. Frengen has been in trouble before with escaping cod, which then contaminate wild stocks by breeding.

More worrying still is a Institute of Marine Research report from last July that indicates that farmed cod not only spawn in their net enclosures, but the larvae spread over large area and survive to become mature fish – an indication that they don’t need to escape to scramble the gene pool.

“We have found sexually mature cod that are a result of spawning in net cages in the test we ran in 2006,” says IMR researcher Knut Jørstad.

Hopefully some authority or other will step up soon and produce a comforting explanation for these finned freaks.

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7 responses to “Return of the cod monsters

  1. I know you’re citing “experts” and I’m just a nobody, but the expression “contaminate wild stocks by breeding” and the idea contained in it has always annoyed me.

    Contaminate. Sure sounds bad, doesn’t it? Even lethal, maybe. But if these weird fish are so bad for the cod gene pool, why would they be a threat? What is this mystical mechanism that make their “bad genes” spread better than the “good genes” of wild fish? It sure isn’t natural selection…

  2. Jonathan Tisdall

    Dunno. They breed, it’s not like they are picky? A bit like rampant human incest due to ignorance? Bad things result? I’m no expert, but it doesn’t sound implausible.

  3. Sure they might breed, but will their offspring? Your incest example is funnily enough considered bad for the exact opposite reason of what is supposed to be bad for these fish.

  4. Jonathan Tisdall

    I don’t follow. And I can only assume from the general alarm that the problem is that they do breed?

  5. Consider this.

    Version one: Fish breed. They get offspring. Offspring lives. Offspring mates. This result makes them “good” in the game of life. If we don’t like their look, tough luck said the flounder.

    Version two: Fish breed. They don’t get many offspring. Most offspring doesn’t live long. The few remaining don’t breed well. These are the “bad” fish as far as nature is concerned.

    Notice in version two how few there’s left after a generation or two? Now how come we label the second scenario “contamination”? I consider it pure new-speak, turning the situation upside down.

    The crux of the matter is the definition of “good” and “bad, we want it to mean “looks nice and normal”, but in nature it’s all about getting offspring. For a species, getting new genetic material is all good, genes that doesn’t help soon decrease. Since nature change over time, even previously bad genes sometimes become useful, so having a few of them hanging around each generation is very healthy for a species.

  6. Jonathan Tisdall

    I’m afraid you must take this to the expert authorities. I can see how this could result in simply the decimation of a large healthy population, which is presumably a risk no one wants to take. People get all touchy when it’s man-made mutation.

  7. Questioning accepted truths is not a role “expert authorities” usually handle well, I’m content with testing my arguments on smart individuals. Unfortunately I seem to have failed to engage you, so I’ll stop boring you with more posts on this issue. Final thoughts:

    Decimation could be a result, in the original meaning of the word. I’ve seen a method of bio-control where some type of tree-destroying beetles are combated by catching males, radiating (thus making infertile) and then releasing them again. This decreases the number of beetles somewhat for the next (few) generation(s). I know of at least one negative follow-up effect of such a decrease. A gene pool “leaks” in that the number of any specific gene can drop down to nothing, but very seldom (mutation being the exception) come back up from zero. This effect is bigger when a population is under pressure, because then you have less individuals to keep the same amount of genes in.

    But these are normal problems, comparable to fluctuations in many other numbers that shape the selection process. Worth worrying over in a news column maybe, but when unfortunate words contaminates the report and fails to describe what is really happening, I think it risks making us all a bit stupider.

    Thanks for listening.

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