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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Use of Fatty Acid Profiles to Distinguish between Selected Game Fish and Farm-Raised Channel Catfish


Establishing the impact of double-crested cormorants on commercial farmed channel catfish production using visual assessments of cormorant GI tract contents is complicated by, first, the difficulty in distinguishing between partially digested fish of different species, and secondly, the possibility that the fish appearing in the diet have a natural source of origin. We analyzed the fatty acid profiles of selected game fish and farm-raised channel catfish to establish profiles that may allow for the application of this technique in establishing cormorant foraging patterns. We obtained for analysis farm-raised channel catfish from three commercial producers and one research facility. For comparison, we also collected channel catfish, gizzard shad, green sunfish, bluegill, and largemouth bass from natural waterways. A total of 12 sample groups were analyzed. Lipids were extracted using a modified Folch extraction and trans-esterified in 3N HCl in methanol. The resultant fatty acids were identified using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. The relative mass percent distributions for the major fatty acids were calculated for each individual. A classification tree analysis was performed to identify groupings based on these individual fish distributions. These preliminary results have led us to conclude that it is possible to distinguish not only between farm-raised channel catfish and game fish in the diet of cormorants, but that it may be possible to identify the source of the farm-raised channel catfish in the diet. The management implications are that it may be possible, based on fatty acid analysis of GI tract contents of cormorants, to assess the actual impact of birds from a given roost or colony on a specific channel catfish producer.

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