Cermaq Fails to Control Sea Lice, Despite New Hydrolicer

Co-founder Bonny Glambeck collects samples beside Cermaq’s Hydrolicer in Millar Channel

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 An application to have Lufenuron approved in Norway—Cermaq’s country of origin—was withdrawn.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.

Cermaq continues to surpass DFO regulated sea lice thresholds.

Clayoquot sea lice epidemic

In 2018 the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Region saw salmon lice reach levels never seen before on the BC coast.

The source of these pests was the open-net pen salmon farms which clutter local wild salmon migration routes. Because salmon farms rear fish in crowded conditions, they act like lice incubators. The lice are then free to pass through the open nets to infest baby wild salmon, which would not normally encounter lice before they are old enough to have fully developed scales for protection. 

A lice count of three or more per fish is the threshold for treatment on salmon farms. At one point, one of Norwegian-owned Cermaq’s Clayoquot farm sites reported lice levels of 54.7 per fish! With half a million fish per farm, that’s an explosion of 27 million lice—right when 2018’s tiny salmon smolts were migrating out of the rivers to their near-shore nurseries.

Wild juvenile Chum salmon loaded with salmon lice

Clayoquot salmon lice outbreak devastating

A massive outbreak of salmon lice in the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is threatening to wipe out this year’s salmon runs. Cermaq’s documentation on salmon lice for April show that the numbers of salmon lice on seven of their fourteen Clayoquot farm sites are up to ten times higher than the threshold which requires treatment. The regulatory threshold is three motile salmon lice per farm fish.

There are 20 open net-pen salmon farms in Clayoquot Sound, all located on wild salmon migration routes. The salmon lice outbreak is occurring as wild salmon smolts are leaving Clayoquot’s rivers to begin their life at sea.

Fish farms under pressure

Last fall Norwegian-owned salmon farming giant Cermaq applied for a permit to deposit over 2 million litres of pesticides in Clayoquot Sound. Clayoquot Action teamed up with SumOfUs to launch a petition opposing Cermaq’s application. Over 34,000 people signed that petition. The Tofino Chamber of Commerce and other stakeholders wrote letters opposing the application. The story hit the media—and the pressure was on!

Cermaq’s application not approved; province-wide sea lice review launched
The good news is that as a result of all this effort, Cermaq’s pesticide application has not been approved. Thanks to everyone who signed the petition and wrote letters—it worked! Not only that, but the province will be looking at all sea lice treatments on BC fish farms…

Deny Cermaq’s pesticide permit

A small ad appeared in Tofino’s newspaper about a week ago. It stated that Norwegian-based salmon farming giant Cermaq was applying to the BC Ministry of Environment for a permit to use Interox® Paramove® 50 to combat sea lice. A bit of searching on Cermaq’s website revealed their application is to deposit 2.3 million litres of pesticide—enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool—into the pristine waters of the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve over a three-year period.

cermaq demo in oslo norway

Tide change in Norway

On the final day in Oslo, the Wild Salmon Delegation met with Cermaq, the Norwegian company with 15 salmon farm sites in Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. We visited Cermaq to share with them the reasons why the Delegation had come to Norway; and to discuss our perspective on the similarities and differences between British Columbia and Norway, the emerging consensus that open-net salmon farming is a dinosaur technology, and the tide change unfolding daily in major Norwegian media.