Parasite load of Atlantic cod Gadus morhua in the Baltic Sea assessed by the liver category method, and associations with infection density and critical condition
During the 2010s, Atlantic cod Gadus morhua L. in the eastern Baltic Sea experienced increasing infection loads of the parasitic nematode Contracaecum osculatum (Rudolphi) in their livers. Starting in 2021, a mandatory part of the routine sampling protocol on Baltic monitoring surveys is to assign a liver category to individual cod livers, based on the number of nematodes visible on the liver surface, to follow spa- tiotemporal changes in nematode infection loads. The validity of the liver category method has never been evaluated. Based on data from 642 cod livers, the method was verified and found to be a good predictor of the total number of nematodes. Moreover, the probability of cod being in a critical condition increased with the parasite load. In addition to their direct applicability to Baltic cod, the present findings may inspire others working with disease in fish stocks to include parasite monitoring.