Quartz announces, “Lox lovers and sashimi devotees, prepare to shell out this year. According to the Nasdaq Salmon Index, salmon prices are at historic highs—and it’s all because of one tiny, nefarious little creature.
The culprit behind the rising price of salmon is about the size of an aspirin: a parasite known as the sea louse, or salmon louse. Acute outbreaks in Scotland and Norway this year have, er, eaten into the global supply of farmed Atlantic salmon. Norway, the planet’s biggest salmon producer, exported around 5% less by volume than in 2015. Globally, production fell around 9%.
Mark Macaskill reported in The Times that the use of toxic chemicals on Scottish salmon farms to fight sea lice has soared in the past decade, according to official data. Between 2006-16, farmed salmon production increased by 35% while the use of toxic chemicals to control flesh-eating lice rose 932%.
The sea louse is a parasite that kills millions of farmed fish every year cause serious fin damage, skin erosion and deep open wounds that are prone to infection.
The latest figures, obtained under freedom of information from the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), show that Scottish salmon farms used 45kg of chemicals in 2006 but this increased to 467kg in 2016. Since 2002, nearly four tonnes of chemicals have been dumped into the seas around Scotland
“Scottish salmon farming is fighting a losing battle against chemically resistant sea lice,” said Don Staniford of the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture. “The drugs don’t work anymore.
Treatments used by Scottish salmon farms included cypermethrin, a pesticide that was abandoned in 2012 after sea-lice developed resistance. Scientific studies have suggested that it impairs fertility in wild salmon. SEPA records also show that just over two tonnes of azamethiphos, an organophosphate insecticide has been used in the past decade by salmon farmers. A paper published last month by scientists in Canada raised concern that azamethiphos poses a serious health risk to marine wildlife; tests on lobsters found repeated exposure can impair the nervous system and cause death.
Efforts are underway to reduce the use of chemicals to control sea lice. Scottish Sea Farms, one of the country’s leading producers of farmed salmon, recently bought a Thermolicer, a £4m delousing device. Fish are pumped into the machine and pass through heated water that kills the lice. Quartz reports, “the scalding-hot bath kills off the sea lice—and also, sometimes, the fish themselves. Last year, salmon-farming giant Marine Harvest inadvertently cooked 95,000 caged salmon with a thermolicer. Though that killed 95% of the sea lice, it also left the company with 600 tonnes of dead salmon to incinerate. Along with rampant salmon deaths from pesticide treatments, the thermolicer incident caused a 16% drop in the company’s Scottish salmon output for 2016”.
Just before Christmas, Salmon & Trout Conservation Scotland called for some of Britain’s leading supermarkets to ban the sale of farmed salmon from parts of Scotland where sea lice infestations are “rampant” and pose a threat to the survival of wild salmon and sea trout.