Cermaq is still having problems with sea lice on their Clayoquot Sound salmon farms. Just last week (mid-September), lice numbers at their Dixon Bay open-net pen operation hit 10.3 lice per fish—more than three times over the threshold for treatment. Despite trying a variety of new treatment methods, Cermaq is failing to control sea lice.
After their 2018 sea lice epidemic, which saw lice numbers on Cermaq’s operations soaring as high as 80-100 lice per fish, Cermaq promised to do better. They applied for an Emergency Drug Release to use Lufenuron—an insecticide which is not approved for use on fish farms in Canada. The drug is so toxic that the flesh of treated fish cannot be consumed by humans for 350 days after treatment. Banned worldwide (except in Chile), Lufenuron is used to manage sea lice on salmon farms. An application to have Lufenuron approved in Norway—Cermaq’s country of origin—was withdrawn.
There are serious concerns about this chemical entering the marine environment—Cermaq is required to sample the feces which accumulates beneath their farms for presence of Lufenuron.
Cermaq also had a $13.5 million Hydrolicer barge built in Holland. This machine basically power washes the farmed salmon to remove lice. This mechanical method of treatment is hard on the salmon, and has been known to cause viral outbreaks and major die-off events. If this were the silver bullet, one would think that Norway would have solved their sea lice problem. Yet in Norway the industry continues to lose about US $2 billion annually, due to the high cost of lice treatment, and the loss of up to 20% of their fish each year.
The Hydrolicer arrived in Clayoquot Sound in June—too late for this year’s juvenile wild salmon. It sat unused at their Tofino fish plant for a couple of weeks. In August, Cermaq reported the vessel was undergoing ‘trials’ in Dixon Bay, but hadn’t been needed all summer due to low lice counts. Our Clayoquot Salmon Investigation (CSI) field team has been following the Hydrolicer’s movements in the Sound. Lice numbers have spiked at two of their Clayoquot salmon farms—the very farms where the Hydrolicer was undergoing trials.
Cermaq apologized to local communities for their sea lice epidemic of 2018 and they promised to do better. Nonetheless lice counts on juvenile wild salmon in 2019 were again at fatal levels. How many more years should Cermaq be allowed to experiment with treatments which put local ecosystems at risk? The only responsible thing for Cermaq to do is to remove their open-net pen salmon farms from the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Region in order to stop harming wild salmon.
Ahousaht First Nation, in whose territory Cermaq operates, has put the company on notice to do better in their management of sea lice.
Dan Lewis is Executive Director of Clayoquot Action.