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Salmon industry battling major sea lice problem

Sea lice have become a major problem for salmon farmers, as salmon all over the world have become overwrought with the parasite. Once sea lice attach themselves to the salmon, they can both kill the fish and also make them inedible.

You may have noticed a spike in salmon prices lately, and farmers have cited sea lice as the driving cause. In 2016, the global supply of salmon fell 10 percent, and if measures aren’t taken to hinder sea lice infestations, salmon farmers will continue to suffer major blows.

Sea lice are a kind of crustacean called copepods that have two long antennas that they use to hook into the salmon and feed. 

According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, salmon farms are a perfect breeding ground for sea lice, and it’s the juvenile salmon that is most at risk of infection.

Because of the high rate of infestation in salmon farms, there is a fear that some fish will escape into the wild and further spread the parasite to wild salmon populations.

“Wild salmon close to fish farms are 73 times more likely to suffer lethal sea lice than juveniles not adjacent to fish farms. A fish farm can also elevate the rate of sea lice infestation in salmon up to 40 miles from their pens,” said Amy Carroll of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website.

There are several steps now being explored to control the growing sea lice issue. These management techniques range from using warm water to detach the lice from the fish to introducing pesticides that could kill the sea lice. Researchers are also working to find ways to make the salmon resistant to sea lice.

There are also risks involved, as these techniques, while effective in combating the sea lice, can also harm the fish. Sea lice can also become resistant to the pesticides over time.

By Kay Vandette, Staff Writer

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