The dinoflagellates Pfiesteria shumwayae and Luciella masanensis cause fish kills in recirculation fish farms in Denmark

Øjvind Moestrup, Gert Hansen, Niels Daugbjerg, Nina Lundholm, Julia Lynne Overton, Martin Vestergård, Svend Jørgen Steenfeldt, António José Calado, Per Juel Hansen

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Fish kills in two geographically separate fish farms in northern Denmark in 2012, one using marine, the other brackish water 'Recirculation Aquaculture Systems' (RAS), were found to be caused by Pfiesteria shumwayae and Luciella masanensis, two species of dinoflagellates belonging to the family Pfiesteriaceae. There were no other harmful algae present in either of the aquaculture plants. Serious fish kills in the US have been attributed to Pfiesteria during the past 20 years, but this type of mortality has not been documented elsewhere. L. masanensis, described recently from Korea and USA, has not been previously reported to be the source of fish kills. In the marine farm, the affected fish was rainbow trout, in the brackish water farm pikeperch. Light microscopy is presently insufficient to discriminate between the approx. 20 species of the family Pfiesteriaceae described. Identification of the two algal species was therefore based on molecular sequencing of nuclear-encoded LSU rDNA, confirmed by scanning electron microscopy and, eventually, also by examination of the very thin amphiesmal plates of the flagellates by calcofluor-stained cells in a fluorescence microscope.Although the two fish farms differed in light and salinity conditions, both farms used re-circulating water in closed circuit systems. The dinoflagellates were examined in detail and shown to feed on organic material such as live, damaged nematodes, as described for the single pfiesteriacean flagellate known from freshwater, Tyrannodinium edax. Algal cells were observed to attach to their prey by an attachment filament and subsequently used a peduncle to suck up the food. Fish farms utilizing water recirculation technology are gaining popularity due to their reduced effect on the environment. The two cases from Denmark are apparently the first RAS farms in which serious fish kills have been reported. In the marine farm (Luciella) fish mortality increased dramatically despite treatment of the water with peracetic acid and chloramine-T. The plant was temporarily closed down pending investigation into the cause of mortality and subsequently to determine a method of management to control the dinoflagellate and avoid future fish kills. In the brackish water farm (Pfiesteria), water was treated with chloramine-T, which caused the dinoflagellates to disappear temporarily from the water column, apparently forming temporary cysts. The treatment was repeated after a few days to a week, when the temporary cysts appeared to germinate and the dinoflagellates reappeared in the water column.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHarmful Algae
Pages (from-to)33-39
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Aquatic Science
  • Plant Science
  • Fish kills
  • Luciella
  • Pfiesteria
  • Pikeperch
  • RAS fish farms


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