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May 2018

Slashing sea lice infection

At a glance
The team

Memorial researcher Albert Solares, in partnership with EWOS Canada

The challenge

Reducing sea life infection in Atlantic salmon farms 

The solution

Developing new diet feeds to help farmed salmon ward off sea lice from attaching to their skin

“Sea lice are difficult to control,” says Albert Solares, a Mitacs researcher at Memorial University of Newfoundland’s Ocean Sciences Centre. “They’re tiny, spread quickly, and attach themselves to voraciously feed on salmon.”

In the last couple of years, Canada’s Atlantic salmon farms have faced a surge of parasitic sea lice, making them susceptible to infections or killing entire stocks. Globally, the spread of sea lice now costs up to $1 billion dollars in lost revenues annually.

“Salmon is a species that gets stressed easily compared to other fish. Infection, especially from sea lice, spreads quickly in cages and causes a lot of loss of life,” says EWOS Canada research scientist Richard Taylor. The other problem is co-infection. Outbreaks often involve several pathogens, including sea lice, bacteria and viruses.

EWOS is a global supplier of food for farmed salmon, and their clients rely on them as a partner in the fight against sea lice and other infections. A farmed salmon’s diet can have an important impact on its immune system and ability to resist infection.

In search of a remedy to the growing sea lice problem, EWOS looked for a research solution. Research on salmon co-infections is difficult because it requires complex test facilities and specialized knowledge. As they assembled a research team from Memorial University and the University of Prince Edward, they found Albert, a postdoc who was able to join the project with the support of Mitacs. Together, the team is investigating how genomics can inform potential cures, specifically through new therapeutic diets that can reduce disease and mortality due to infection.

Albert’s internship has taken him 7,738 kilometres across Canada to Tofino, British Columbia. He has been able to work directly with EWOS Canada’s fish farming customers to understand how different diets promote or improve the health of their salmon.

“This project is helping EWOS develop the best diet formulations, including sustainable, Canadian-sourced ingredients, to increase the health of farmed salmon without impacting the environment,” says Albert. The ingredients in the feed could help farmed salmon ward off sea lice from attaching to their skin.

EWOS’s new feeds could reduce the risk that pathogens are transmitted from fish farms to wild salmon.  If successful, they could reduce sea lice infection drastically — up to 70 percent — and translate into savings of up to $57 million annually for the Canadian aquaculture industry. 

Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador for their support of the Accelerate research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Accelerate program also receives support from Alberta Innovates, the Government of British Columbia, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Saskatchewan, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, and Research Manitoba.

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