Fewer Baltic salmon are now dying from the puzzling M74 syndrome, but salmon deaths could increase again. Despite intensive studies it is still not clear what causes the syndrome, which affects newly hatched salmon fry. Researchers strongly suspect that the explanation lies in a number of complex interacting factors in the Baltic Sea. Precautionary treatment with vitamin B1 reduces mortality in salmon hatcheries, but this method offers no cure for wild salmon. Baltic sea trout is also affected by M74, a recent conference in Stockholm concluded.
"It is becoming increasingly obvious that M74 is a complex environmental problem that demands extensive interdisciplinary co-operation", says associate professor Bengt-Erik Bengtsson, chief scientist of the project at Stockholm University.
The syndrome is named after the year it was discovered, 1974. M stands for "miljbetingad", i.e. "environmentally related". In a four-year project, a group of researchers commissioned by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, the National Board of Fisheries, the Swedish Council for Forestry and Agriculture Research, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Power Board, have tried to trace the cause of the syndrome.
"The M74 syndrome was a problem that was left out of the game in Research Sweden. That's why five government authorities and organisations started the project, which has now come to an end. A number of questions still need to be answered, and we must find a sponsor to finance further research", says Rolf Annerberg, head of the EPA.
Death usually occurs in afflicted salmon fry a few days after the first symptoms
seen. In 1993, when the frequency of M74 was at its peak, the syndrome claimed
90 per cent of farmed salmon fry in some rivers. In recent years, the incidence
considerably lower. Researchers long suspected a link with environmental
Contact: Cathy Hill
Swedish Environmental Protection Agency