Aquaculture for all

CA$413,000 to Study Sea Lice at VIU

Biosecurity Politics +1 more

CANADA - Vancouver Island University professor Dr. Duane Barker has received a three-year $413,000 research grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to study one of the most controversial topics in BC - sea lice and their impact on salmon farming.

It’s the largest single, non-equipment grant ever awarded to a Vancouver Island University researcher, and great news for students.

“I’m really proud of the fact that over 80 per cent of this grant will go towards student salaries,” said Barker, an expert in fish health diseases and fish parasites at VIU’s Fisheries and Aquaculture department. “During the next three years, we’ll train at least 12 VIU undergraduates, four graduate students (VIU alumni) and one post-doctoral researcher. Three undergrads are already working in our lab this summer.”

A key part of the project is training students and fish health technicians how to diagnose salmon health using various techniques including biochemical and genetic tests, plus, disease modeling, added Barker.

“There will be terrific networking opportunities for students at national and international conferences, and with fish health experts in BC,” he said. “The experience (working on this project) will build their skill set and look fantastic on their resumes.”

Barker’s co-investigators on the project include Dr. Simon Jones, Dr. Kyle Garver and Dr. Stewart Johnson, all of the Pacific Biological Station in Nanaimo.

Sea lice have become one of the most hotly debated topics concerning farmed salmon in British Columbia. The controversy concerns the exchange of sea lice between wild and farmed salmon and the possible implications for BC’s wild salmon stocks.

“Right now, recent research data indicates higher levels of sea lice are found on wild salmon caught in the open ocean, away from farms,” said Barker. “A lot of people think it’s the other way around.”

Sea lice are naturally-occurring parasites that live on the skin of wild fish, and are passed on to farmed fish, Barker said. “One variable that has not been addressed is the direct or indirect role of sea lice contributing to disease development,” he added. “What’s not clear is whether sea lice pass on pathogens (viruses, bacteria) to fish. Few reports have isolated viral and bacterial pathogens from sea lice, but actual pathogen transmission has never been tested.”

“The role sea lice as a vector (transmitter) remains undefined. In other words, when (seasonally) and where (geographically), could sea lice carry important pathogens to salmon? Such information is critical to the salmon farming industry in BC and elsewhere. The answers could lead to improved health management strategies for salmon farmers and fishery managers and better detection of pathogens in the environment. The research could also lead to a greater understanding of the ecological and immunological roles of sea lice in the interactions of disease between wild and farmed salmon.”

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