Aquatic scientists divided on role of sea lice from salmon farms in decline of native salmon in B.C.

and parasites between the farmed and wild fish.

Because of concerns about possible effects of sea lice on native fish, 11 of 27 Atlantic salmon farms in the Broughton Archipelago were closed during the migration of the pink salmon in 2003 (a practice called "fallowing"). "It was a big economic loss to the farmers," said Morton. And it didn't entirely solve the problem. "We still had over 20 percent of the fish infected, and the farmers can not repeat this measure this year."

Scott McKinley, Professor and Senior Canada Research Chair of Animal Sciences at the University of British Columbia and Executive Scientific Director of AquaNET, a National Network of Centres of Excellence in aquaculture and environmental research whose mandate is to foster a sustainable aquaculture sector in Canada, disagrees with Morton's conclusions. He suggests that there is no evidence that native fish are declining due to farming.

"With any fish population, one or two years of surveys does not make a trend. . .. There have been drastic declines in pink salmon before, and that was before there were farms here," said McKinley. "There is no study published showing a cause-and-effect relationship between sea lice on wild and farmed fish. . . All the work that's out there is based on correlations."

McKinley suggests that other explanations for the population fluctuations in wild fish are also likely. For example, population crashes could result from limited resource availability or fishing pressure. Fluctuations in water temperature on a global scale, such as those caused by El Nio, could make the salmon sick and stressed. "If you happen to be weak or stressed in terms of general health, you tend to be more susceptible to parasite infection."

Pressures from environmentalist groups about sea lice are forcing the aquaculture sector to make sacrifices based on inadequate information, McKinley said. He said that in the Broughton Archipelago "the farms were

Contact: Alexandra Morton
National Research Council of Canada

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