Lumpfish Lend a Fin in UNH Innovative Aquaculture Research

Posted on June 18, 2024

A story of academic excellence

By Michael Doherty, Research Project Manager and Elizabeth Fairchild, UNH Research Associate Professor, Biological Sciences

Lumpfish in tank at Seacoast Science Center.
Lumpfish in tank at Seacoast Science Center.

The lumpfish, or Cyclopterus lumpus, is a native species of fish found throughout the cold waters of the North Atlantic. While folks are not always familiar with this fish, it plays an important role in the Gulf of Maine ecosystem, and has been the subject of innovative research at the University of New Hampshire (UNH).

The lumpfish can be found in coastal waters, as well as deeper waters here in NH. They have a set of modified pelvic fins that act and look like a suction cup, which they use to adhere onto structures such as rock faces, pilings, and masses of seaweed. They can grow to be well over 1 foot long, and feed on whatever they are able to catch. Their prey are typically invertebrate animals such as jellyfish, amphipods, and sea lice. In addition to their suction cup fins, lumpfish have cartilaginous skeletons similar to sharks, and lack a swim bladder. They are a truly unique species here in the Gulf of Maine.

A sea louse.
A sea louse. Photo courtesy of NH Sea Grant

Dr. Elizabeth Fairchild and her graduate students at UNH have been working very closely with the lumpfish over the last six years. Specifically, their research focuses on utilizing lumpfish in salmonid aquaculture (salmon and trout farms) to remove parasitic sea lice from the fish. 

Atlantic salmon is a popular, and valuable fish that is farmed due to its declining population. One of the biggest challenges to farming this species in the ocean is the damage caused by sea lice, which feed on the fish and can be very detrimental to the fish’s health. Historically, sea lice removal relied on expensive, stressful bath treatments, or pesticides. However, lumpfish behave as a “cleanerfish,” meaning they are more than happy to swim up to another fish species and remove parasites directly. Adding lumpfish to fish farms for this purpose allows for a pesticide-free way to limit sea lice in farms, which is good for the farmed fish as well as wild fish species. Researchers in the Fairchild Lab at UNH have also been working on best practices for raising and utilizing lumpfish as cleanerfish, prioritizing lumpfish wellbeing and ethical use.

UNH is also examining historical lumpfish catch data, which is essentially data on where and when lumpfish are being reported by fishery scientists and commercial fishers. Examining these data can tell us about lumpfish movement over time. More broadly, the lumpfish catch data can provide insight on changes occurring in the Gulf of Maine over time.

UNH’s lumpfish aquaculture research project is now featured at Seacoast Science Center in its Our Dynamic Gulf of Maine: A Place of Urgency and Hope exhibition gallery. The UNH School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering/NH Sea Grant tank represents the lumpfish habitat at the UNH Coastal Marine Laboratory, and is home to several (we must say, adorable!) juvenile lumpfish. 

To learn more about these unique fish, aquaculture research, and explore the UNH lumpfish mapping project, visit Seacoast Science Center. 

Click here to learn more about lumpfish and the lumpfish mapping project.

Seacoast Science Center will be CLOSED today: Friday, April 5, 2024. Our utilities are currently down and need to get repaired before we are able to open for visitors. Thank you for your understanding. 

CLOSED today.

Seacoast Science Center is closed today due to inclement weather.