NEW PUBLICATION - Genetic differentiation of lumpfish

Demand for lumpfish (Cyclopterus lumpus) has increased exponentially over the last decade, both for their roe, which is used as a caviar substitute, and increasingly also as cleaner fish to control sea lice in salmon farming. The species is classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN and there are growing concerns that over-exploitation of wild stocks and translocation of hatchery-reared lumpfish may compromise the genetic diversity of native populations. We carried out a comparative analysis of genetic and phenotypic variation across the species’ range to estimate the level of genetic and phenotypic differentiation, and determined patterns of gene flow at spatial scales relevant to management.

We found five genetically distinct groups located in the West Atlantic (USA and Canada), Mid Atlantic (Iceland), East Atlantic (Faroe Islands, Ireland, Scotland, Norway and Denmark), English Channel (England) and Baltic Sea (Sweden). Significant phenotypic differences were also found, with Baltic lumpfish growing more slowly, attaining a higher condition factor and maturing at a smaller size than North Atlantic lumpfish. Estimates of effective population size were consistently low across the North East Atlantic (Iceland, Faroe Islands and Norway), the area where most wild lumpfish are fished for their roe, and also for the aquaculture industry. Our study suggests that some lumpfish populations are very small and have low genetic diversity, which makes them particularly vulnerable to over-exploitation and genetic introgression. To protect them we advocate curtailing fishing effort, closing the breeding cycle of the species in captivity to reduce dependence on wild stocks, restricting the translocation of genetically distinct populations, and limiting the risk of farm escapes.

Whittaker BA, Consuegra S, Garcia de Leaniz C. 2018Genetic and phenotypic differentiation of lumpfish (Cyclopterus lumpus) across the North Atlantic: implications for conservation and aquaculturePeerJ 6:e5974


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