A B.C. salmon farm operator has announced plans to expand its capacity to mechanically remove sea lice from infested fish.
Cermaq Canada, which holds 25 salmon farm licences in the province, announced in a press release they are investing roughly $14 million in the new mobile technology, built by Sea Farm Innovations (SFI), and a support vessel the company said can treat up to 200 metric tonnes of fish per hour.
“The unit has been designed with fish welfare in mind. We have used this technology at our farms in Chile with good success and we are excited to bring it here to our Canadian operations,” Brock Thomson, innovation director for Cermaq Canada said.
Farmed salmon are brought into the SFI System through an intake pump before travelling to a gravity-controlled flushing chamber where presurized sea water loosens and removes the parasites. The device is similar to the company’s hydrolicer dependent on a tug boat, but distinguishes itself by its portability aboard a fixed vessel.
“The system does a great job of removing lice, while still being gentle on the fish. The short treatment duration — about 0.2 seconds per fish — is also important to note as this creates minimal stress, which also helps to support better welfare for our fish,” Thomson said.
Removed sea lice and eggs will be disposed of on land following treatment.
Sea lice are naturally occurring in B.C. waters, but farms are known to serve as prolific breeding grounds due to the density of salmon hosts available. A threshold of three parasites per fish will trigger delousing measures, or, as a last resort, a forced harvest before the infestation spreads to migrating juvenile salmon.
Salmon farm operators world wide have increasingly been looking to mechanical systems as sea lice build immunity to drug treatments.
“As a company, we made the global commitment to move to prevention, and non-chemical means of treating for sea lice as our first lines of defense,” David Kiemele, managing director of Cermaq Canada said.
Cermaq expects delivery of the SFI System early next year ahead of juvenile salmon out0migration. It will be deployed in two areas that have become flash points for salmon farm opponents: the Broughton Archipelago, where there are strict monitoring agreements with local First Nations and a possibility of seeing all farms phased out of the area in the next few years; and the Discovery Islands, which lie in the narrow path of a key migration route that was singled out in the 2012 Cohen Commission recommendations for the removal of all open net pens by Sept. 30 this year.