What You Need to Know About Sea Lice Affecting Your Salmon

What You Need to Know About Sea Lice Affecting Your Salmon

For restaurateurs specializing in seafood, sea lice issues are nothing new. The tiny marine parasites, which naturally occur on many different species of wild fish like wild adult salmon, luckily do not affect humans. But while most salmon-farming regions struggle with infections from this water-bound pest, the challenge has been particularly difficult in the past two years.

“The reasons for this are many, but can be attributed to things as varied as climate-related anomalies and trends (e.g., higher sea surface temperatures, low precipitation, etc.) to production practice strategies (e.g., farm siting, fallowing regimes, etc.),” says Taylor Voorhees, a senior aquaculture scientist for the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program, a globally respected source of science-based recommendations for sustainable seafood from wild-caught and farmed sources.

The sea lice are planktonic, which means they are transported on the tide, and those in the seafood industry have been trying different methods to get them under control. Voorhees is optimistic; however, he says it’s an issue that will not be solved overnight. There are many obstacles to overcome, from those climate-related aspects to the slow pace of the growing cycle of salmon.

“The significant improvements the global salmon industry has made in their impact areas have taken, with very few exceptions, many years of research and hard work by a diverse group of stakeholders,” he explains. “In addition, the growing cycle of salmon, which is roughly 18 months, and the fact that the industry often staggers stocking such that multiple year classes (i.e., ages/sizes) are at sea simultaneously means that most of the challenges exist throughout the year.

“Put simply, a ‘winter’ problem, for example, can’t be considered to disappear by summertime, because it will likely become more relevant again the following winter, or a ‘small fish’ problem can’t be considered to disappear once fish grow because another cohort of small fish is in the water elsewhere or will be shortly following harvest.”

That, in turn, he continues, translates into a higher need for chemical controls at theproducer level, and those producers make up the difference in revenue by passing on those additional costs to their customers. There’s also the issue of some chemical products, when released into the environment, posing more risk of impact than others. 

“For example,” Voorhees explains, “there has been a rapid growth in the use of hydrogen peroxide to treat sea lice because it rapidly dissociates into water and oxygen molecules. Other chemical products persist in the environment and can impact nearby wild organisms.” 

Voorhees says that more environmentally friendly technologies are in the works. They aim to isolate farm fish from lice with floating contained tank systems—which Seafood Watch highly recommends—as well as updates to traditional net pens.
One such program is underway at Atlantic Sapphire, a Norwegian-based company building a new plant in Florida. The first salmon eggs for this new plant are slated to go in at the beginning of 2018, with the first fish heading to market in late 2019 or early 2020. In the meantime, chef/restaurateur Anthony Lamas is working with the main Atlantic Sapphire headquarters, which is based in Denmark.

“They offer the first sustainable, certified farm-raised salmon,” says Lamas, who owns Seviche in Louisville, Ky. The Latin-focused restaurant partners with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, and Lamas received its seafood ambassador award a few years ago.

“Atlantic Sapphire is not affecting the environment. It has its own habitat,” he adds. “I always look at the farm-raising practices, and this is a new salmon that we’re really excited about.” There are also several fish that may be used instead of salmon. Bon Appetit recommends Arctic char, ocean trout, amberjack, striped bass and bluefish as good alternatives.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program is indeed held in high regard, and its seafood recommendations guide helps consumers choose seafood that’s fished or farmed in ways that have less impact on the environment. Recommendations cover about 80 percent of seafood available on the U.S. market, and they receive a “best choice” or “good alternative”—as well as which ones to “avoid.” Each assessment is peer reviewed by at least three external experts, ensuring no biases. They’re continuously updating reports and update the Seafood Watch website at the beginning of each month.

The nonprofit Seafood Watch program is always looking to partner with restaurants like Anthony Lamas’ Seviche. Restaurant owners may fill out an application, and if accepted, they’ll have access to more than 2,500 seafood recommendations, plus educational tools and resources about ocean issues, networking opportunities with other partners and recognition on Seafood Watch’s site.


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