Is This Bizarre Farmed Fish Deformity a Warning Sign for Humans?

The farmed fish industry is huge, accounting for about $60 billion worth of the fish consumed last year. For the first time in history, consumption of farmed fish has outpaced wild-caught.

The research, published this week in the journal Scientific Reports, found deformed ear bones in 50 percent of farm-raised salmon.

“All of the large 100-plus farm-raised salmon (weighing more than 9 pounds) had the deformity in at least one ear,” reports Newsweek.

“Fish with malformed ear bones, also known as otoliths, may lose as much as 50 percent of their hearing sensitivity.”

Hearing is vital to salmon’s survival in the wild—it alerts the animals to danger, to food sources, and assists with navigation.

While the researchers aren’t sure what’s causing the deformity, the fish don’t seem to be born with it; something in their diet or environment is causing the problem.

And if you’re wondering how a deaf salmon affects your dinner plans, it probably doesn’t, at least, not in the short term. But it can be an indicator of things to come—more health problems in farmed fish, and that could be disastrous for the industry if farmed fish become inedible due to health issues.

Allison Coffin, a researcher at Washington State University who wasn’t involved in the study, told Newsweek the findings are just “more evidence hatchery conditions are causing problems with the fish, and we need to figure out what we’re doing,” she says.

So, maybe, just have the salad. Or pay a little bit more for the wild-caught salmon instead.