Original Paper

Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries

, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 125-170

First online:

Stress-associated impacts of short-term holding on fishes

  • Donald E. PortzAffiliated withWildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology, University of California, DavisFisheries and Wildlife Resources Group, 86-68290, Technical Service Center, Bureau of Reclamation Email author 
  • , Christa M. WoodleyAffiliated withWildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology, University of California, Davis
  • , Joseph J. CechJr.Affiliated withWildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology, University of California, Davis

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Most sources of stress in aquaculture, fish salvage, stocking programs, and commercial and sport fisheries may be unavoidable. Collecting, handling, sorting, holding, and transporting are routine practices that can have significant effects on fish physiology and survival. Nevertheless, an understanding of the stressors affecting fish holding can lead to practices that reduce stress and its detrimental effects. The stress-related effects of short-term holding are influenced by water quality, confinement density, holding container design, and agonistic and predation-associated behaviors. Physiological demands (e.g., resulting from confinement-related stresses) exceeding a threshold level where the fish can no longer compensate may lead to debilitating effects. These effects can be manifested as suppressed immune systems; decreased growth, swimming performance, or reproductive capacity; even death. Furthermore, holding tolerance may depend upon the species, life stage, previous exposure to stress, and behavior of the held fish. Water quality is one of the most important contributors to fish health and stress level. Fish may be able to tolerate adverse water quality conditions; however, when combined with other stressors, fish may be quickly overcome by the resulting physiological challenges. Temperature, dissolved oxygen, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, salinity, pH, carbon dioxide, alkalinity, and hardness are the most common water quality parameters affecting physiological stress. Secondly, high fish densities in holding containers are the most common problem throughout aquaculture facilities, live-fish transfers, and fish salvage operations. Furthermore, the holding container design may also compromise the survival and immune function by affecting water quality, density and confinement, and aggressive interactions. Lastly, fishes held for relatively short durations are also influenced by negative interactions, associated with intraspecific and interspecific competition, cannibalism, predation, and determining nascent hierarchies. These interactions can be lethal (i.e., predation) or may act as a vector for pathogens to enter (i.e., bites and wounds). Predation may be a significant source of mortality for fisheries practices that do not sort by size or species while holding. Stress associated with short-term holding of fishes can have negative effects on overall health and well-being. These four aspects are major factors contributing to the physiology, behavior, and survival of fishes held for a relatively short time period.


Aquaculture Confinement density Holding Stress Transport Water quality