Association between sea lice (Lepeophtheirus salmonis) infestation on Atlantic salmon farms and wild Pacific salmon in Muchalat Inlet, Canada

Nekouei, Omid and Vanderstichel, Raphael and Thakur, Krishna and Arriagada, Gabriel and Patanasatienkul, Thitiwan and Whittaker, Patrick and Milligan, Barry and Stewardson, Lance and Revie, Crawford W. (2018) Association between sea lice (Lepeophtheirus salmonis) infestation on Atlantic salmon farms and wild Pacific salmon in Muchalat Inlet, Canada. Scientific Reports, 8. ISSN 2045-2322

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    Abstract

    Growth in salmon aquaculture over the past two decades has raised concerns regarding the potential impacts of the industry on neighboring ecosystems and wild fish productivity. Despite limited evidence, sea lice have been identified as a major cause for the decline in some wild Pacific salmon populations on the west coast of Canada. We used sea lice count and management data from farmed and wild salmon, collected over 10 years (2007-2016) in the Muchalat Inlet region of Canada, to evaluate the association between sea lice recorded on salmon farms with the infestation levels on wild out-migrating Chum salmon. Our analyses indicated a significant positive association between the sea lice abundance on farms and the likelihood that wild fish would be infested. However, increased abundance of lice on farms was not significantly associated with the levels of infestation observed on the wild salmon. Our results suggest that Atlantic salmon farms may be an important source for the introduction of sea lice to wild Pacific salmon populations, but that the absence of a dose response relationship indicates that any estimate of farm impact requires more careful evaluation of causal inference than is typically seen in the extant scientific literature.