Sea Lice Have Found a New Enemy in Cooke’s Aquaculture

By Rob Patry

The sea lice war rages on. Sea lice are a minute sea parasite, a copepod, a tiny crustacean, which attach themselves to healthy salmon and sea trout. Throughout both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the louse has found a new home in salmon farms spreading in ocean facilities of New Brunswick and Maine. Farms that are an isolated environment or ecosystem are more susceptible to the lice. Think of school children in a small class. One of them has hair lice. The parasite now has a never-ending food supply, so they tend to flourish and are more difficult to control, spreading from child to child. The invasive sea lice species attack salmon and adhere themselves to the scales, fins and gills of the fish. They feed off blood and mucous near the gills and the skin directly under the scale. The fish have no natural way to protect themselves, and the lice disperse quickly within the colony. Similar to plankton, the microscopic organism that whales feed off of, sea lice are so small that the wind carries them over the ocean’s surface.  Because of this, they can spread rapidly over a large expanse infecting multiple farms at once. The resultant problem wreaks havoc on farmed salmon populations.

Previously, various methods have been suggested to curb the growth of this intrusive parasite. Sea lice cost the fish farming industry globally more than half a billion dollars a year. To date, chemicals, breeding, and farming changes have proved ineffective. According to a news release from the Government of Canada, Cooke Aquaculture, located at Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick, is developing an environmentally friendly and economical device to remove the lice from the ocean. The methodology behind the process is completely green, and has the go-ahead from the Canadian Government in the way of a $3 million dollar investment. Specifically, the announcement on September 16th, 2016, is intended to help further develop a device and process that uses warm water to remove sea lice from farmed salmon. The sea lice are filtered, collected, and brought ashore for disposal achieving a 95% elimination rate. By using this green alternative to costly therapeutants, the device and warm water process will significantly benefit the industry by reducing costs and by providing salmon farmers with an additional sustainable treatment option to a major fish health challenge. Successful implementation of the project will have a direct impact on dropping sea lice-related losses for Cooke Aquaculture, and offers a green alternative to managing sea lice outbreaks, strengthening the Atlantic salmon brand and competitiveness in the marketplace. 

According to Glenn Cooke, CEO of Cooke Aquaculture, “Managing fish health has always been of paramount importance to our family’s fish farming business. That means working with our in-house scientists, veterinarians, and engineers to explore innovative new ways of doing things. It also means partnering with science organizations and with our government to develop effective solutions for farming challenges like managing sea lice.  This is a major step forward, not just for our company, but for Canada’s aquaculture industry.”