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Chile Admits Sea Lice 'outbreak'

by the Fish Site Editor
18 July 2007, at 1:00am

CHILE - The Chilean Government has acknowledged for the first time that sea lice parasitic crustaceans that affect both wild and farmed fish are causing serious problems for the countrys lucrative farmed salmon industry.

Chilean salmon farmers face a growing sea lice problem

Also known as Caligus, sea lice attach themselves to the bodies of fish, causing infection-prone lesions that leave the host fish vulnerable to a host of potentially fatal illnesses. Though they also affect wild fish, sea lice are particularly attracted to fish farms, which house huge numbers of captive and concentrated host fish.

In a July 5 letter addressed to the Washington, D.C.-based organization Pure Salmon Campaign, Ines Montalva Rodriguez, director of Chile’s National Fishing Service (SERNAPESCA), admitted that Chile has experienced an “outbreak” of the parasites. She also outlined a series of actions authorities are taking to contain the problem.

The measures include monitoring the transport of fish from Caligus-infested zones to Caligus-free zones, dousing salmon pens with hydrogen peroxide, and conducting workshops and roundtables to educate salmon farmers about the problem.

On June 8, the letter went on to explain, SERNAPESCA formally launched its so-called Surveillance and Control Program for Caligus. “The Surveillance Program looks to decrease the impacts of Caligus on salmon aquaculture and considers – as a first step – collecting, recording and analysing data about the disease. (The Program) will also define all necessary actions in order to control this parasite problem,” wrote Montalva.

According to Pure Salmon Campaign, an organization that lobbies worldwide for healthy and environmentally-responsible salmon production practices, Montalva’s letter marks the first time a Chilean government official has officially recognized the extent of the outbreak.

This is not, however, the first time the sea lice problem has attracted public attention. In fact, for several months now information about a possible Caligus “plague” had been bubbling to the surface through media reports and vague references by some salmon companies themselves.

In early April the daily La Nación published an alarming exposé entitled “The Plague of Salmon,” warning that Region X – where some 84 percent of the nation’s US$2.2 billion salmon industry is concentrated – is on its way to becoming “more lice-infested than a homeless shelter.”

Sea lice, the article explained, leave fish with ugly lesions that lessen the salmon’s market value, stunt their growth and leave the host fish prone to a variety of sometimes fatal illnesses. As Dr. Felipe Cabello of the New York Medical College wrote in an e-mail to the Patagonia Times, “Sea lice infestation may increase fish susceptibility to bacterial infections by at least two mechanisms; fish stress and by allowing bacteria to penetrate the fish skin through ulcerations.”

Source: The Patagonia Times

the Fish Site Editor