Testing natural cleaners

Project to evaluate control of sea lice in farmed salmon

Published on September 9, 2015

Aquaculture is big on both coasts, but it appears some wild salmon in British Columbia and a number of farmed Atlantic salmon are testing positive for a lethal virus, according to a professor at the Atlantic Veterinary College in Prince Edward Island.

Beginning in October 2011, Dr. Fred Kibenge's lab found that some wild British Columbia salmon and a number of Atlantic farm salmon are testing positive for segments of the Infectious Salmon Anemia virus (ISAv), a lethal salmon virus associated with salmon farming worldwide.

Despite Dr. Kibenge's findings, federal and provincial government officials reported that they could not detect the virus in B.C., and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) ordered an audit of Dr. Kibenge's lab. The CIFA later suspended the lab's status.

The virus is still a potential issue, according to the Atlantic Salmon Federation.

"It's been a problem on the east coast for sure," said the ASF's Sue Scott.

"It has certainly been around for a long time, and has devastated the industry in New Brunswick in 1996, and has followed the industry in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland," she said.

The problem is overcrowding in salmon cages, she added.

"Wherever the ISA comes from, it is exasperated in the cages, like flu spreading in a classroom."

There is a better way of growing salmon that's within closed containers, said Scott. There are entrepreneurs that are switching to closed containment for salmon, but she said the method isn't in Newfoundland yet.

(ISAv) is a naturally occurring virus that is sometimes found at salmon aquaculture sites throughout the world, and has been found in some Newfoundland and Labrador sites in the past. But the risk of ISAv is mitigated by using biosecurity measures, according to a spokesperson for the provincial Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

The department stated ISAv is not harmful to humans. According to department officials, there is no risk to human health through consumption or contact with the fish. When aquaculture operators identify a potential fish health issue, added the spokesperson, they work with their veterinarian to conduct further research and address the situation.

There is a publicly-funded centre at St. Alban's, the $8-million Centre for Aquaculture Health and Development, which focuses on animal health, testing and monitoring.

The salmon aquaculture industry in the Coast of Bays just received another research and development financial boost.

Researchers will use a $358,000 investment from the provincial government to support the growth of the industry.

Through the research project, alternative methods for sea lice removal at Atlantic Salmon aquaculture sites using cleaner fish, specifically conners and lumpfish, which are native to the province’s coastal waters will be evaluated, a press release from the province stated Wednesday.

The total project value is $991,000, which includes a $258,000 contribution from the Research and Development Corporation and $100,000 from the Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

“Research and development is a key building block of the aquaculture sector,” said Darin King, minister responsible for the research and development corporation. “Building on the strong collaborative relationships among academic researchers, business and government, this project will enhance capacity in our province and help salmon farmers overcome the fish health challenges posed by sea lice, one of salmon’s natural parasites. 

This project involves industry collaboration with Cold Ocean Salmon Inc., a subsidiary of Cooke Aquaculture Inc. which operates a salmon aquaculture facility in St. Alban’s, where research will take place.

“This innovative project is expected to reduce costs for the local salmon aquaculture industry while allowing it to maintain healthy fish stocks, offer more environmentally friendly chemical-free treatments for sea lice, and enhance its competitiveness in the seafood market,” added Vaughn Granter, minister of fisheries and aquaculture.

This project represents an ongoing cleaner fish initiative that was spearheaded at the Ocean Sciences Centre with industry partner, Cold Ocean Salmon.

“This research will allow us to increase our knowledge and production of cleaner fish and make significant advances towards these species becoming an important tool to use towards sea lice control in our salmon farms in the region,” Danny Boyce, of the department of ocean sciences, Memorial University added.

A multi-faceted research team is conducting research dedicated to developing a “new tool” for industry to use to mitigate and control sea lice on Atlantic salmon,” the release added. Cleaner fish are fish that provide a service to other species by removing ectoparasites, such as sea lice.

Other funding sources include the Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation (CCFI).

“Aquaculture is the most rapidly expanding food production system in the world, producing about half of the seafood for human consumption,” noted Robert Verge, managing director of CCFI. “Its expansion has been enabled by substantial investment in research and development. This is another example of the way in which research and development is contributing value to the economy, both globally and locally.”

 In 2015, the Newfoundland Aquaculture Industry Association identified sea lice control as a top research and development priority for the provincial finfish aquaculture sector. The research and development involves a large-scale field trial using cultured cleaner fish in a sea cage validation trial to test the effective removal of sea lice from farmed salmon. The feeding behaviour of the cleaner fish is harnessed to create a natural defense for the farm. The project will deliver innovative methods and technology needed to produce cleaner fish and will be tested in a real-world environment, according to the press release.

“Fish health and welfare is a top priority for us at Cold Ocean Salmon,” said  Sheldon George, the company’s Newfoundland and Labrador production manager. “As farmers we want to take an integrated pest management approach to minimizing the impact of parasites like sea lice on our animals. Our in-house science and our farming teams are extremely pleased to be working with world-class experts at the Ocean Science Centre to solve real world farming challenges.”