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Threat to Salmon from Farm-Spawned Sea Lice Grows
Norwegian agency cites increasing failure of drugs to control sea lice; news holds dire implications for wild Pacific salmon that migrate past fish farms in British Columbia

11/02/2009 by Craig Weatherby

We’ve reported many times on the fight to save wild salmon from the swarms of sea lice generated by industrial salmon farms in British Columbia.

British Columbia (B.C.) is home to some of the biggest wild salmon runs in the world, and last summer, returns of sockeye salmon to the Fraser River dropped by an alarming 90 percent.

Strong circumstantial evidence ties this disaster to the dozens of salmon farms sited near the path of the young salmon fry when they left the river... never to return.

Swarms of sea lice from salmon farms sited near migratory rivers are proven to do great harm to young salmon “fry” as they leave their birth rivers.

How to help
We urge you to sign petitions to the Canadian provincial authorities, which are found here and here.

If you do so, and are an American citizen or resident, please be sure to note that fact at the top of the letter.

Most of the salmon grown at B.C. fish farms is sold to the U.S., so Americans have considerable clout in this fight.

To learn more, see “Salmon Defenders Rally.” To read all our reports on the problems surrounding offshore industrial fish farming, search our newsletter archive.

And look below for a video tour of British Columbian waters, showing researchers looking for (and finding) loads of sea lice sucking the life out of juvenile wild salmon.

While Alaska does not allow salmon farming, many of the wild salmon caught in Alaskan waters spawn in British Columbian rivers.

These include the Fraser River, home of a huge sockeye run, which empties into the Strait of Georgia just south of the city of Vancouver, and north of our Bellingham, Washington home base.

Norwegian agency raises sea lice alarm
A new report from Norway’s fish health watchdog says that sea lice on Norwegian salmon farms are increasingly resistant to the drugs used to control them.

And likely as a consequence, the numbers of sea lice inside the ocean-anchored net cages are also increasing sharply.

In a stunning development, the numbers of sea lice reported by salmon farm operators in September, 2009 were three times higher than the numbers found in September of 2008.

The new report includes data from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, which found that the sales of toxins for treatment of sea lice infestations increased considerably from 2007 to 2008.

As the agency said, the increases were “…more than expected in light of the increased biomass salmon produced… Resistance against pyrethroids and emamectine is also observed in several areas and unsuccessful treatment courses which had to be repeated with other agents have contributed to the increased sales.”

Emamectine benzoate is the drug used most often on B.C. farms, even though it kills shellfish and other creatures in the marine food chain that live on the sea floor below the salmon cages.

Most of the industrial salmon farms in B.C. are owned by Norwegian firms, which seem to hold powerful sway over the premier and other provincial politicians, who have resisted calls to defend wild salmon runs from the lice generated by fish farms.

The billion-dollar corporations that own the salmon farms in B.C. have claimed that drugs can control the sea lice on their fish, and dismiss the documented threat to passing wild salmon.

But the announcement by the Norwegian Food Safely Authority undermines those bland assurances.

And this alarming news should fuel efforts to force the Canadian authorities to get more serious about closing or moving salmon farms currently sited near wild salmon migration routes.

Norway created the salmon farming industry, and saw disastrous effects on wild salmon and the coastal eco-system. Sadly, those same problems have appeared wherever salmon have been raised in similar fashion, inside net cages anchored in and open to ocean waters.

For example, in 2007 Chilean salmon farms found that sea lice that were becoming resistant to the leading pesticide.

Mortality rates caused by sea lice infestations at Chilean salmon farms in 2007 were up 30 percent over 2006 and the evidence suggests that sea lice have developed resistance to the lice-killing chemical emamectin benzoate.

The number of parasites per fish has increased, the treatment is less and less effective, and some farms have had to close.

Activists and biologists urge protection for Fraser River sockeye
In order to protect thousands of juvenile salmon from sea lice and other potentially fatal diseases, marine biologists like Alexandra Morton
and their citizen allies in the Georgia Strait Alliance and Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reformsay that all fish farms must be removed from a salmon migration route in the northern Georgia Strait.

Specifically, they want all fish farms removed from the Wild Salmon Narrows… a series of channels in the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and the British Columbian mainland. Millions of salmon
including Fraser River sockeyemust pass through the Wild Salmon Narrows on their way to and from their spawning grounds.

This is a necessary emergency measure to protect wild salmon, including Fraser River Sockeye, from sea lice infection from fish farms.