Cessation of a salmon decline with control of parasites

Authors


  • Corresponding Editor: K. Stokesbury.

Abstract

The resilience of coastal social–ecological systems may depend on adaptive responses to aquaculture disease outbreaks that can threaten wild and farm fish. A nine-year study of parasitic sea lice (Lepeophtheirus salmonis) and pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) from Pacific Canada indicates that adaptive changes in parasite management on salmon farms have yielded positive conservation outcomes. After four years of sea lice epizootics and wild salmon population decline, parasiticide application on salmon farms was adapted to the timing of wild salmon migrations. Winter treatment of farm fish with parasiticides, prior to the out-migration of wild juvenile salmon, has reduced epizootics of wild salmon without significantly increasing the annual number of treatments. Levels of parasites on wild juvenile salmon significantly influence the growth rate of affected salmon populations, suggesting that these changes in management have had positive outcomes for wild salmon populations. These adaptive changes have not occurred through formal adaptive management, but rather, through multi-stakeholder processes arising from a contentious scientific and public debate. Despite the apparent success of parasite control on salmon farms in the study region, there remain concerns about the long-term sustainability of this approach because of the unknown ecological effects of parasticides and the potential for parasite resistance to chemical treatments.

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