Of the many stressors in aquaculture, transportation of fish has remained poorly studied. The objective of this study was therefore to assess the effects of a (simulated) commercial transportation on stress physiology of market-size African catfish (Clarias gariepinus). Catfish weighing approximately 1.25 kg were returned to the farm after 3 h of truck-transportation, and stress-related parameters were measured for up to 72 h following return. Recovery from transportation was assessed through blood samples measuring plasma cortisol, glucose and non-esterified fatty acids (NEFA) and gill histology. Also, the number of skin lesions was compared before and after transport. Pre-transport handling and sorting elevated plasma cortisol levels compared to unhandled animals (before fasting). Plasma cortisol levels were further increased due to transportation. In control fish, plasma cortisol levels returned to baseline values within 6 h, whereas it took 48 h to reach baseline values in transported catfish. Plasma glucose and NEFA levels remained stable and were similar across all groups. Transported catfish did not, on average, have more skin lesions than the handling group, but the number of skin lesions had increased compared to unhandled animals. The macroscopic condition of the gills was similar in control, transported and unhandled catfish; however, light microscopy and immunohistochemistry revealed atypical morphology and chloride cell migration normally associated with adverse water conditions. From our data, we conclude that transportation may be considered a strong stressor to catfish that may add to other stressors and thus inflict upon the welfare of the fish.
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